Disclosure: BorrowLenses provided the lenses in this article free of charge.
As a food photographer there are times when I need to get in close to my subject. Usually this isn’t a problem especially when I’m photographing something that is “normal” in size, like a bowl of pasta or a plate of food. However there are, on occasion, times when I’m photographing something small and my usual lens (the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS) just can’t focus in tight enough. It’s times like these when I need a macro lens.
The thing is, I don’t own a macro lens, and I can’t remember the last time I had ever used one. In my opinion it’s a misconception that you need a macro to shoot food, since there’s usually no need to get in so close to a plate of food to photograph teeny-tiny details (usually at the expense of not being able to tell what is being photographed). But when you have a very small subject, and you want to get in tight on that subject, then a macro lens is the only way to go.
I had a few setups I wanted to shoot in which I needed a macro lens, and BorrowLenses was kind enough to send me a few lenses to try out. There were two I had my eye on: the Zeiss 100mm macro, and the Canon 180mm macro. I wanted to try the Zeiss because, well, it’s a Zeiss … and that it was 100mm. I chose the Canon 180mm because with my 70-200m I’m usually always set at 200mm, so I figured that would be a familiar focal length. I assumed that would be the one I liked best.
When I got the lenses, I set up my shot with the ring (in the photo above), and the first one I tried was the 180mm. I hadn’t heard too many good things about the lens from a few different people, mostly along the lines of “it has too much macro”, but I wanted to see for myself. And … they were right. When I set up the ring in the shot above with the 180mm it was sooooo compressed and way zoomed in to the ring that I couldn’t get very much else in the frame. I wanted to have some of the glass and bubbles in the shot, but there wasn’t much else I could fit without backing up, and I didn’t want to be too far from my set. My initial thought of it being the one I would like best (and more likely to buy over the 100mm) was wrong.
So I switched to the Zeiss 100mm, completed my shoot and was pretty happy with the results. The Zeiss is pretty expensive, so I might not end up with that one down the road and may have to give the Canon 100mm macro a try before I dive into any big purchases. The key is that I now know what works for my photography to get the results I want.
The whole point I’m trying to get across is that if you want to buy new gear, that’s great! Just make sure you need it, first. Consider BorrowLenses, for lens rentals, or just try out gear from a willing friend. When I first started into Photography I bought so much more gear than I ever needed … partly because I didn’t know what I wanted, and also because I didn’t realize what I got wouldn’t be what I wanted. I get emails all the time asking “which lens/camera/etc. should I buy”, and my answer is always to rent first. You can only tell so much from other people’s photos, or even just trying the lens in the store. You need to be in real-world situations with gear to know if it is what will work for your photography.