Why is my 50mm macro is my favorite lens for still life and food photography? This is something I get asked all the time. I shoot with a Sony a7 II, a7R III and a Sony 50mm macro lens. Working with fairly small sets and scenes, I love the flexibility the 50mm macro gives me.
Not needing to stand as far from my subject as I would with a 90mm or 100mm, is a bonus too. I can work in fairly tight spaces and still get an overall shot, but then at literally a flick of a switch jump into 1:2 or 1:1 macro and really grab the finer details.
For me, it really is all about the flexibility and versatility of this lens. in the 1:4 setting, I can even shoot portraits and landscape if I wish too. If I am on location I can and have used this lens to shoot landscape images and in a snap some portraits as well, then without stopping I can go straight back to shooting bees and flowers.
I do also have a Zeiss 55mm lens which is truly stunning for portraits, but I cannot get in close as I can with a macro for great up-close images. Sometimes a 50mm can be a little too close when working with bees and the possibility of getting stung, but I find if you are slow and steady and do not annoy them, they are happy to pose for a photo or two.
Whether on autofocus or manual focus, this lens captures stunning detail. The peak meter on Sony cameras really can help with assisting to get optimal focus, even with my eyes not being quite what they used to be with the small viewfinder.
There is even a hold function with a small button on the side of the lens, which allows me to hold my focus and move around within a shot. I can be 50mm or 5 meters (approx. 16.5 feet) away from my subject and the focus is still amazing. If I feel the need to move in close, I can even add extension tubes to the lens and really get in close.
Bokeh & blur
I adore the blur and bokeh from this lens — it is a little softer than some 90mm macro lenses. Usually when working up close with your subject you get more of a blur than a true bokeh, and the blur on this lens of soft and creamy, perfect for my style of photography. I truly do not believe I can get as close to my subject and get the blur and bokeh with a standard 50mm lens, as I can with my 50mm macro.
Now I know we all say it is the photographer and not the equipment that makes beautiful imagery, but having truly great equipment can make creating beautiful images a joy. Sure I can take the same photo with my smartphone. While they are totally amazing these days, there seems to be an overall lack in the depth of field that I can capture with my 50mm. With the right props, the right light, I can take a mundane everyday object and turn it into a thing of beauty.
Weight & cost
While for some this is not a deciding factor, for me it was a big thing. I borrowed a 50mm macro for a few days to try out before I decided to buy it.
I had always used a 90mm macro in the past. They are big, heavy and often costly, even with the ‘cheaper’ brands. This was significantly smaller and lighter than the Sony 90mm. I had moved to a mirrorless camera system because the weight of DSLR camera gear was becoming an issue for me.
The fact that it was approximately half the price of the 90mm was also compelling. The 90mm runs AUD$1500 ($998 USD), while the 50mm runs AUD$800 ($498 USD). Here’s a complete spec comparison:
- Weight: 0.96kg (roughly 2.1 pounds)
- Aperture: f/2.8
- Aperture Blades: 9
- Minimum focal distance: 0.28m (roughly 11 inches)
- Weight: 0.23kg (roughly 0.5 pounds)
- Aperture: f/2.8
- Aperture Blades: 7
- Minimum focal distance: 0.16m (roughly 6.3 inches)
Now I am not saying the 90mm is a bad lens — it is beautiful. But for me with weight and cost being a big factor, the quality of the images is superb, so for my vote is for the 50mm.