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Macro Lens Test: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Laowa, Sigma, and Tamron Compared

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Photographer Christopher Frost has put together one of the most comprehensive and detailed macro lens shootouts we’ve ever seen. In this video he tests the latest 100mm (ish) f/2.8 macro lenses from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma, Tamron, and Laowa to see how they compare in terms of build, usability and performance.

The lenses Frost is testing, in alphabetical order, are: the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM, Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Macro, Nikon AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor G IF-ED, Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro, Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS, and the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC USD Macro (F017).

In terms of age, the Nikon lens is the oldest, followed by the options from Canon and Sigma; the Laowa, Tamron and Sony lenses are all quite new.

For the sake of consistency, all of the lenses were tested on a 42MP Sony a7R II, with the exception of the Nikon lens, which was tested on a 45MP Nikon Z7. That puts the lens at a bit of a disadvantage given the additional 3MP of resolution, but Frost compares all six lenses at the same level magnification.

It’ll be hard to summarize the findings here, so if want the most detail (get it…) you should really watch the full comparison. That said, here are a few key takeaways for anyone looking for a TL;DW version of the 14-minute video:

  • The Canon and Nikon lenses are among the oldest and most expensive of the bunch, barely tying (Canon) or outright losing to (Nikon) the cheaper third party options.
  • The Sigma is a decent performer, and the cheapest option if you want a stabilized, autofocus lens.
  • The Sony is the newest and one of the sharpest as well… but it’s also the most expensive.
  • The Tamron is a great option if you want a newer lens with stabilization and autofocus at a reasonable price, but optical performance isn’t on par with the Sony or Laowa.
  • The Laowa lens is an incredible value if you’re willing to give up autofocus and image stabilization. It comes in almost every lens mount, offers a 2:1 magnification ratio, and the optical performance is top notch.
All six lenses shot at 1:1 magnification and f/2.8, and zoomed in on the middle of the frame. Note: the Tamron was, unfortunately, shot on a different coin.
The same test at f/8

The worst performer by far was the Nikon lens, so much so that Frost goes to great lengths to reassure viewers that he did focus it properly and it was a properly working copy of the lens.

The standout of the bunch in terms of price-to-performance is definitely the Laowa. It’s lacking some nice-to-have features like in-lens stabilization and autofocusing capability, and you don’t want to stop it down past f/8 if you can help it, but it’s a phenomenal performer and the only lens that can do 2:1 without an additional extension tube.

Check out the full video up top to dive deeper into each of the results above, as well as vignetting, distortion tests, and more. If you’re looking to buy into a premium macro lens—and a lot of people are these days—this is one of the best buyer’s guides you could ask for.

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