Compare Zoom Macro and Fixed Macro Lenses - dummies

By Thomas Clark

Some photographers prefer a zoom lens (camera lens with a variable focal length) for close-up and macro photography because it enables them to cover a variety of focal lengths without having to change lenses.

This can come in handy for photographers who shoot wildlife, events, weddings, sports, news, or anything that requires capturing images quickly. Spending the time to change lenses to achieve different focal lengths can cause a photographer to miss the shot in these types of photography.

On the other hand, fixed lenses (camera lenses with a permanent focal length, also known as prime lenses) in most cases provide sharper images and are faster (or have a wider maximum aperture). These lenses don’t have the ability to zoom in and out, so photographers who use them have to switch between lenses in order to achieve different focal lengths.

Those who have more control over their subjects, such as landscape, portrait, product, fashion, and still-life photographers tend to prefer fixed lenses because of their high quality of sharpness and their ability to work well in low-light situations.

Some zoom lenses include the term macro in their selling points to draw in photographers who are interested in versatility that includes macro capabilities. The only problem is that zoom lenses don’t actually provide macro-focusing capabilities.

Zoom lenses that boast macro features enable you to get in a little bit closer to your subjects than zoom lenses that don’t have macro features. They can produce nice close-up images, as the figure showcases, but to really get you in close these lenses require additional macro and close-up accessories (not used in the figure).

Images taken with the macro feature on a zoom macro lens.
Images taken with the macro feature on a zoom macro lens.

50mm, 1/15, f/13, 400

No zoom lens on the market is equipped with true macro capabilities. Macro photography requires a subject to be represented on your digital sensor with a 1:1 ratio. The only lenses that can accomplish this without any special accessories or attachments are macro-specific, fixed lenses.

A macro zoom lens enables you to focus slightly closer to a subject than a given focal length would normally allow, but it doesn’t come close to enabling life-size representation of the subject. A salesperson who tells you that a zoom lens doubles as a macro lens is not being 100 percent honest with you.