What is the best macro lens for Nikon cameras?
With so many options, choosing the perfect macro photography lens can be a challenge.
That’s why I created this guide–which will give you the seven best macro lenses for Nikon…no matter your budget.
Each and every one of these lenses is guaranteed to offer professional macro capabilities; they really are that good.
So let’s get started.
The Best Macro Lenses for Nikon, Ranked
Here are the absolute best Nikon macro lenses available:
Now let’s take a closer look, starting with the best macro lens for Nikon available:
These days, you can find dozens of macro lenses for Nikon…
…but one rises above the rest.
It offers an incredible combination of a reasonable price, true (1:1) macro magnification, tack-sharp optics, excellent build-quality, and even some optical stabilization for the added benefit of crisp shots at high magnifications.
The focal length is smack-dab in the middle of what most macro photographers need–at 105mm, you’re going to get enough working distance to shoot details and flowers, without so much length that you feel like you’re carrying around a barbel.
Regarding optics: The Sigma 105mm macro is sharp across the board. Images look great starting out at f/2.8, then become even sharper when stopping down to f/4 and f/5.6. Chromatic aberration is minimal (and what does exist is easily correctable in a program such as Lightroom or Luminar).
Build-quality is nice, without resulting in a lens that’s like a tank (though I wouldn’t go so far to call the lens “light).
I’m also a fan of the big focus ring design; if you’re not frequently using the manual focus on your macro lens, then you’re probably doing it wrong, which is where a thick rubber ring becomes very useful.
The big bonus here is the image stabilization (Sigma refers to this as ‘OS’). While this may not seem like a big deal–after all, plenty of macro lenses don’t offer stabilization–it’s important to remember that high magnifications magnify camera shake while reducing light (a very dangerous combination!).
That’s where image stabilization becomes a huge benefit, so that you can drop your shutter speed down to the 1/60-1/80s range without sacrificing sharpness.
Honestly, what’s great about the Sigma 105mm macro is that you can grab it for cheap, but you’ll never have to upgrade; it’s the sort of lens that’s great for beginners and more serious photographers alike.
Best For: Macro photographers looking for great image quality, excellent handling, and a nice build–all for a very reasonable price!
If you’re looking to just get started with macro photography and you don’t want to spend the extra $150 or so for the Sigma (above), then I wholeheartedly recommend the Nikon 40mm f/2.8.
It offers 1:1 (true macro) magnification, which means that you’ll be able to get that ultra-close-up perspective that macro photographers love. And the manual focus ring offers just the right amount of stiffness for precision focusing.
Plus, the optics are stellar; the 40mm f/2.8 micro is crystal clear wide-open, and stays that way all the way through the aperture range (until diffraction sets in). If you’re looking for gorgeous detail shots of leaves, flowers, snow, and more, then the 40mm micro is an excellent choice.
And while you don’t get image stabilization, the lens is relatively small and light, which means that you don’t have to worry as much about camera shake. Plus, it makes it the most travel-ready lens out of all the options on this list.
Unfortunately, a lens that’s this cheap is going to come with at least one or two downsides, and here they are:
First, this is a DX lens, which means that you can’t use it on a full-frame camera. Assuming you’re shooting with any one of Nikon’s excellent APS-C cameras (such as the Nikon D3500 series, the Nikon D5600 series, or the Nikon D7500 series), you’ll be just fine. But if you use a full-frame camera, or you plan to go full-frame in the near future, just be aware that this lens will no longer be useful.
This lens is only 40mm long (a 60mm focal length equivalent on APS-C cameras). This is an issue for two reasons:
First, it means that your working distance is tiny. In other words, if you’re shooting at high magnifications, the front of the lens will get very close to your subject–and while this isn’t always an issue, you may find yourself casting shadows on the subject, or even bumping into it with your lens.
And second, the smaller the focal length, the less background compression that the lens offers (and, consequently, the less interesting the bokeh). It’s not a dealbreaker, but longer macro lenses (e.g., the Sigma 105mm) are just going to offer more smooth, creamy backgrounds compared to a 40mm lens like this.
That said, the 40mm focal length can double as a standard prime, which means that you can use it for walkaround photography, street photography, portrait photography, and the like. So if you decide macro isn’t your thing, you won’t have to worry about having a pointless lens at the bottom of your camera bag.
Anyways, the 40mm f/2.8 is a great lens, one that packs stellar optics and nice ergonomics in a small package. If you’re just looking to test out the macro waters, then it’s a great way to get some stunning close-up shots.
Best For: Getting started taking stunning macro photos without breaking the bank
The Sigma 180mm f/2.8 is a superb lens, but it’s also big, heavy, and pricey–which is why I recommend it for insect photographers and pretty much no one else.
If you want to capture beautiful macro images of insects, you have to find a way to get close, and a 180mm macro lens is a great way to do this. The key advantage is working distance: With a lens like the Sigma 180mm f/2.8, you can approach without scaring your subject off.
You also get great ergonomics for manual focus, as well as decent autofocus performance for photographing insects that just won’t stay still.
The optics are, as you might expect, stellar; the Sigma 180mm macro provides sharp photos wide open, and even sharper photos when stopped down. With a lens this large and long, you’re definitely going to want to watch out for camera shake, but Sigma’s image stabilization should help out with that, allowing you to (carefully) handhold even at high magnifications.
Unfortunately, the Sigma 180mm macro costs an arm and a leg, so it’s certainly not a good option for beginners. You also have to contend with the impressive weight and size, so unless you’re fond of carrying around several pounds of lens, I’d really recommend picking another option–unless you’re an insect photographer, of course, in which case this is a great buy, assuming you can afford it.
The Sigma 180mm f/2.8 is an excellent lens, but only for those who really need it. Otherwise, stick with one of the other options on this list.
Best For: Insect photographers seeking the best-possible image quality
The Lensbaby Velvet 85 is one of those “love it or hate it” type lenses.
Because it’s designed to offer a ‘glow,’ which gives soft, eye-catching, artistic images, like this:
Personally, I love this look, and if you’re ever interested in producing soft-focus macro images, then the Lensbaby Velvet 85 is going to be a huge asset.
What’s also nice about the Velvet 85 is that it gives soft, glowing images at f/1.8 to f/2.8 or so, at which point images become sharp–really, really sharp, in fact. So if you like the glow look but you’re not sure you’ll want it all the time, don’t fret; you really do get the best of both worlds.
Note that the Velvet 85’s style is pretty old-school, with an aperture ring and a metallic barrel. The lens itself is manual focus only, so if you’re used to using autofocus pretty regularly then that’ll take some getting used to. Personally, I almost always use manual focus, so I’ve never had a moment where I wished that I could have autofocus, but you may have different shooting preferences.
The 85mm focal length, by the way, is in the ideal range for flower photography–and it’s the reason that I recommend the Velvet 85 over the (also great!) Velvet 56.
So if you’re looking for a lens that’ll really enhance the artistic aspect of your images, then grab the Velvet 85.
You won’t regret it!
Best For: Gorgeous soft-focus, ‘glowing’ macro images
The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Micro VR is a great macro lens, but one that comes with a significant price tag.
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, which is smooth and 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 a great option, assuming you’re willing to pay.
Best For: Flower photographers seeking top-notch image quality, regardless of price
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The Nikon 60mm f/2.8G is one of the only shorter macro lenses on this list, primarily due to usability; 60mm just isn’t a great focal length for macro photography. At such a short focal length, you’ll have to get extremely close to your subject if you want sharp images, so you risk casting shadows or knocking your subject.
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, you have the distance problems I mentioned above, plus 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.
And despite the 60mm focal length, bokeh is decent. I still prefer the background blur on the longer focal length lenses, but this lens is far from bad.
The Nikon 60mm micro does lack image stabilization, which is disappointing, given how frequently it comes in handy at high magnifications. 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 certainly an option worth considering.
Best For: Photographers looking to experiment with macro photography on the go
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 f/4, both in the center and the corners, and it stays sharp as you stop down. It also offers incredible bokeh.
And for insect photographers, the Nikon 200mm Micro is a dream come true; 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 you’ll struggle to track insects as they move about, so if you’re looking for the fastest-possible AF, I’d recommend going with the Sigma 180mm (above), instead.
Ultimately, the Nikon 200mm f/4 Micro is a great lens, and it offers spectacular image quality. But it’s big, it’s heavy, it’s pricey, and autofocus isn’t especially strong–so unless you’re an insect photographer who requires exceptional sharpness, I’d recommend another option.
Best For: Serious macro photographers who want pin-sharp images of insects
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.
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.
But don’t stop there!
If you’re looking to keep taking your macro photos to new heights, I recommend you sign up for my email list, where I send all sorts of macro photography tips, tricks, and secrets that I don’t share on my blog.
I’ll also send you my eBook, free of charge:
Mastering Macro Photography: 10 Quick Tips for Stunning Macro Photos
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