What is the best macro lens for Nikon DSLRs?
With so many options, choosing the perfect macro photography lens can be a challenge.
That’s why we created this guide–which will give you the five best macro lenses for Nikon…no matter your budget. All of these are guaranteed to get you professional-quality photos.
(If you’re a Canon shooter, check out my article: The Best Macro Lens for Canon.)
Let’s get started.
(To skip straight to my top choices for best macro lens, click here.)
How to Choose the Best Macro Lens for Nikon
When it comes to choosing a macro lens for your Nikon camera…
…it’s easy to get bogged down in talk of resolution charts, diffraction, and other confusing terms.
But all that? It’s unnecessary.
Take it from me: I’ve worked with nearly a dozen macro lenses. And there are really just a few key factors to consider.
Factors which ensure that you’ll be able to capture amazing macro photography, consistently.
And these factors are:
- Maximum magnification
- Focal length
- Image quality
Here’s the hard truth:
If you want to capture the best possible macro photos, you must have a true macro lens.
Let me explain:
All lenses have a maximum magnification. That is, if you try to focus on an object that’s close to them, there’s a point where they just…stop. They can’t focus any closer.
Now, some lenses don’t have a very good maximum magnification. They can’t do close focusing. And this is a huge problem for macro photographers, because good macro photography gets really, really close to the subject (in order to capture gorgeous detail).
Other lenses, however, will get you very close to the subject. And true macro lenses will get you the best magnification of all:
If a lens offers 1:1 magnification, it’ll capture lots of gorgeous detail. It’ll make your subject look life size (on the camera sensor).
The best macro lenses for Nikon DSLRs are true macro lenses.
That’s why every lens I recommend below offers true 1:1 magnification.
Focal length matters for one huge reason:
The working distance is the gap between the front element of the lens and your subject at 1:1 magnifications.
Basically, a lens with a huge working distance lets you take high magnification images…
…while far away from your subject.
Whereas a lens with a small working distance requires that you get very close to your subject in order to take a stunning macro photo.
When it comes to insect macro photography, a large working distance is essential. If you get too close to the insect, it’ll fly away, after all!
Flower and still-life photographers, on the other hand, don’t necessarily need a longer working distance. In fact, a smaller working distance allows for a more intimate perspective.
Now, focal length and working distance are related in one major way:
The greater the focal length, the larger the working distance.
So a 200mm macro lens will have a much larger working distance than a 60mm macro lens.
To sum up:
If you want to shoot macros of insects (or animals), you need a longer focal length. In the 150mm to 200mm range will work well.
If you want to shoot macros of flowers or inanimate objects, a shorter focal length will do the trick. Something in the 60mm to 105mm range.
Macro photography involves working at high magnifications.
And high magnifications?
They magnify camera shake.
One way to deal with this problem is to use a tripod. A rock-solid tripod will get you sharp macro photos, consistently. And this works well for more deliberate, stationary macro photographers.
However, some macro photographers (myself included) prefer to photograph while on the move. These macro photographers like to change angles often, change compositions, and be more flexible in the field.
Does that sound like you?
If so, you’re going to need a lens that handles well. One that’s not too heavy (to handhold for long periods). Ideally, you’ll want a lens that offers image stabilization.
(Image stabilization is a technology that decreases camera shake. Nikon refers to this as vibration reduction, or VR.)
If you want to be a more flexible macro photographer, you have to choose your lens especially carefully. Because you need to be able to take close-up shots, even in low light.
A great macro lens offers great image quality.
And great image quality consists of two main things:
- Gorgeous bokeh
In macro photography, the sharper the lens, the better. Because you want to show as much detail as possible.
You also want beautiful, creamy bokeh.
(Bokeh refers to background blur. The smoother the background blur, the better.)
If you can find a Nikon macro lens that offers both sharp photos and beautiful bokeh, then your potential for gorgeous shots goes up–astronomically.
Which brings me to the real question:
What are the best macro lenses for Nikon DSLRs (in 2019)?
1. The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Micro VR
Best for: Flower photographers looking for the best image quality available
Here it is. The best macro lens for Nikon:
And it is incredible.
First, the image quality is, without a doubt, stunning. This lens is sharp. Ridiculously sharp.
It’ll get you crystal clear images across the board–starting from its wide open aperture of f/2.8. Plus, it captures beautifully rendered, contrasty images.
Not to mention the bokeh. Smooth. Creamy. Like chocolate.
This lens comes with vibration reduction, promising an extra four stops of shooting in low light. For macro photographers who like to shoot handheld, this is essential. Most macro lenses are borderline useless in low light–unless they include VR.
It’s a true macro lens, which means that it offers life-size (1x) magnification.
And while I do almost all my macro shooting handheld, I love that the autofocus speed is extremely fast.
A couple of final points:
- The build quality is impressive. This lens will last a long time.
- The Nikon 105mm VR offers internal focusing–so you won’t have to deal with an extending front lens element. When you’re working at high magnifications, this is a real benefit.
For any serious macro shooters looking to do flower photography, the Nikon 105mm micro is the way to go.
2. Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro
Best for: Photographers on a budget–who still want professional-quality shots
You might be tempted to ask:
Can a cheap, third-party lens ever compete with the likes of Nikon’s 105mm macro?
The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro may not look like much–but it packs a huge punch.
First, image quality is superb. This lens is mind-blowingly sharp, even at f/2.8, where lenses traditionally struggle. Yes, there is occasionally a bit of chromatic aberration (fringing) when shooting contrasty scenes at the widest apertures–but it’s nothing that a bit of post processing won’t fix.
Bokeh is stunning. This lens will repeatedly get you photos that have backgrounds made of chocolatey goodness. It’s a great option for those looking to do macro photography of still subjects, such as flowers.
That said, this lens is several hundred dollars cheaper than the Nikon 105mm VR, and there are a few reasons why.
First, the build quality.
The Tamron 90mm macro is mostly plastic–and you can feel it. This shouldn’t be an issue, as long as you treat it well. But for those who have a tendency to bang up your equipment, a lens like this probably isn’t the right decision.
Second, the Tamron 90mm macro doesn’t offer image stabilization. If you shoot with a tripod, this won’t be an issue. But if you prefer to work handheld, this could cause some problem when shooting in low light.
Finally, the Tamron 90mm macro focuses externally. This means that the lens extends as you twist the focus ring. And this can be a bit frustrating, especially if you’re working at very close distances.
That said, for the price, this lens is an incredible option. It’ll guarantee you professional-quality images.
3. Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX OS Macro
Best For: Photographers who want to photograph insects without breaking the bank
The Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX OS Macro is the first long macro on this list. At 150mm, it offers enough focal length to shoot insects–without being ridiculously heavy.
That said, this Sigma isn’t exactly light. You’re not going to want to carry it around on casual outings. If you can get away with the smaller Nikon 105mm VR, I’d go with that, instead.
Now, build quality on the Sigma 150mm macro is solid. You won’t feel like this is an overly fragile lens, though you should be careful, as it’s not weather sealed.
Lenses this size are tough to handhold. The Sigma 150mm macro isn’t in the same league as, say, the Nikon 200mm f/4 (shown below). But it would be tough to handhold at lower shutter speeds–if it wasn’t for the optical stabilization, that is! The added OS makes handholding feasible, even in low light.
As for the image quality?
Like most macro lenses, the Sigma 150mm macro is extremely sharp. That’s from f/2.8 and onward. If you were worried about getting professional-quality shots with a third-party lens, don’t. Because the Sigma has you covered.
Bokeh is beautiful. Macro photographers will appreciate the compression that comes from a 150mm focal length. This results in a lovely background blur.
The gorgeous bokeh, combined with the excellent sharpness, makes this lens a powerful macro contender.
Especially for those insect photographers who don’t want to pay for the Nikon 200mm f/4D or the Sigma 180mm f/2.8 macro.
So if you’re looking to capture stunning insect macros (or if you’re a flower photographer who wants to add a long lens to their arsenal), the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 may be the way to go.
4. Nikon 60mm f/2.8G Micro
Best for: Photographers looking to experiment with macro on the go
The Nikon 60mm f/2.8G is one of your only short macro lens options. Part of this probably has to do with usability–most photographers just aren’t interested in 60mm macro lenses.
Which begs the question: Who is a lens like this for?
I recommend short macro lenses to photographers who want a walkaround lens…
…but also want to be able to shoot up close.
Because here’s the thing:
60mm is going to be too short for insects. And while 60mm can work for close up flower photography, the bokeh at such a short focal length just isn’t as impressive as bokeh at, say, 105 millimeters.
However, if you’re in the market for a walkaround macro lens, then the Nikon 60mm has a lot going for it.
First, it’s light. Really, really light. At just under 1 lb, the Nikon 60mm lens won’t be difficult to handhold–even in low light. Nor will it be a pain to carry around.
It’s also extremely sharp.
Is it as impressive as the Nikon 105mm lens?
But it will still give you professional-quality photos.
Despite the 60mm focal length, bokeh is very good. I still prefer the background blur on the longer focal length lenses, but this lens is far from bad.
This lens lacks VR, which is disappointing. But the short focal length means that you can still handhold this lens, even at low shutter speeds.
Finally, build quality is good, but not great. This lens feels solid–but it’s far from tank-like.
If you want a walkaround lens that can also shoot some great macros, the Nikon 60mm is the lens for you.
5. Nikon 200mm f/4D Micro
Best For: Serious macro photographers who want pin-sharp images of insects
The Nikon 200mm f/4D is a truly incredible lens.
It’s also incredibly pricey.
Let’s start with the good:
This lens is unbelievably sharp. It’s sharp at across the board, even at the corners. You literally could not choose a sharper lens.
It also offers incredible bokeh.
For insect photographers, this lens is perfect. The working distance, even at life-size (1x) magnifications, is an impressive 10.2 inches (26 cm). You can capture beautiful, detailed photos of bugs–without scaring them off.
This lens is also built like a tank. If you’re the type of photographer who lets your equipment take a beating, don’t worry.
Unfortunately, the metal body comes with a downside: the hefty weight. The Nikkor 200mm micro is just over 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg). This makes handholding in the field quite tough. Add to that the lack of VR, and you’re looking at a lens that requires a tripod in low light (or some very steady hands).
Plus, autofocusing is rather slow. If you like to focus manually, this isn’t an issue. But just be warned.
Here’s the bottom line:
If you’re an insect photographer who requires ultimate sharpness, and you have a lot of money to spend…
…well, this lens won’t disappoint.
The Best Macro Lens for Nikon: Next Steps
Now you know the absolute best macro lenses out there.
Every lens on this list will get you incredible, professional-quality shots.
As long as you know how to use it, that is!
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