What is the ultimate Sony FE (full-frame, E-mount) Macro lens?
If your current lens will not focus close enough to make a subject larger in the frame, it is time to get a macro lens. Macro lenses are very fun to use, macro subjects are everywhere, and the unusually close look at these typically-small subjects can be beautiful and intriguing. The results of macro photography are very fun to share.
While many lenses have "macro" in their names, that word does not get my attention until the specifications reveal that it has a 1:1 or 1x maximum magnification ratio. This means that the subject will be rendered at life-size on the camera's sensor. A 20mm-wide subject will be rendered across 20mm of the sensor, 20mm is a significant portion of the imaging sensor width, and the subject will be made HUGE on your large monitor.
There are always subjects available for macro photography. And bringing flowers (subjects) home for your wife can even strengthen your marriage. :)
Deciding which focal length will work best for your macro needs is, as usual, part of the lens selection process. Longer focal length macro lenses will give you more working distance at 1:1, reducing the likelihood of live subjects flying or crawling away. Longer focal length lenses also have narrower angles of view, which means that there is less background to incorporate into an attractive-looking image. And, that background will be more-diffusely blurred, as shown below.
The subject in the images above are identically framed using the same camera, the same aperture setting (f/16), and they have identical subject to background distances. As a rule, the same framing and the same aperture results in the same Depth of Field (DOF) until focus distances approach the hyper-focal distance. But, perspective, compression, and angle of view are very different between these sample photos. The 180mm lens shows only a small physical area of the subject's background that is enlarged, magnifying the blur. Background elements in the 60mm picture appear to be more in focus. However, they just about as blurred though these elements are far less magnified. There are also more background elements showing because of the 60mm angle of view. The result is a less diffusely-blurred background.
If you are using a backdrop (such as rolled paper), the background blur aspect will not likely be important to you.
There are downsides to the longer focal length macro lenses including larger size, heavier weight, and faster shutter speeds required for handholding. Longer focal length macro lenses typically cost more than the shorter counterparts.
I tend to prefer longer focal length macro lens result best, but find myself using the about-100mm focal length the most.
It is important to understand that the depth of field at 1:1 macro focusing distances is very shallow. Here is an aperture comparison as illustrated by a 90mm lens:
Narrow apertures are called on frequently for macro photography, and narrow apertures mean longer shutter speeds. Long shutter speeds will often require image stabilization, a tripod, or flash to stop the camera motion blur. For macro use, the maximum aperture of a macro lens is not often essential to me as all lenses have my most-used f/8 through f/16 aperture openings. That said, a wide aperture makes creative blurs easier, as shown by the 105mm f/2.8 example below.
Unleash your creativity. Or, move farther from your subject, and a wide aperture can be extremely useful for keeping a distracting background in a blurred state. Most macro lenses have great general-use telephoto lens utility, including for portrait photography.
While autofocus is nice to have in a macro lens, I often use manual focus for critical focus accuracy at close focusing distances. But as with a wide aperture, a good-performing autofocus system can be beneficial in some macro photography uses and more often for other macro lens uses.
The Best Sony Full-Frame Macro Photography Lenses
Outstanding Image Quality, Excellent Value
The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Macro Art Lens is a bit of an anomaly. It provides incredible image quality yet bears a low price tag. Build quality has not been sacrificed, and this lens almost as fun to use as it is to view the images from it.
Reasonably Sized, Nicely Built, High Performing, Optical SteadyShot, Relatively Affordable
As I write this recommendation, Sony has only one FE macro lens, and that makes the recommendation easy. Fortunately, this is a good lens, and the price is reasonable compared to the others in the Sony FE lens lineup.
Visit the Sony Lens Recommendations page for more recommendations.