Focal Length, Minimum Focus Distance and Macro Magnification: An Analysis The connection betwen focal length, focus distance and macro magnification

Today we are doing something different. This will not be a lens review or comparison, instead, we are going to take a look at some interesting numbers.

Our goal here is to get a better understanding of the connection between a number of popular lens focal lengths and their close-up distance and macro magnification capabilities (for info on macro magnification check out our explanations in the text of our “Introduction to Super Macro Photography“).

Let’s give a specific example. Say you are in the market for a new 35mm FF lens and you want to know how the lens you are considering stands in terms of close-up distance and magnification in relation to other lenses in the category.

What we tried to do here is organize all this information in one place and see if there are any general conclusions that we can draw from the numbers that we find.

Two notes before we start. We decided to restrict ourselves to modern FF mirrorless lenses with AF. We also stick with each specific focal length so a list of 24mm lenses will not include a 25mm lens – this is arbitrary but you need to draw a line somewhere. Also worth noting is that these are all official manufacturer numbers.

24mm focal length

Lets start with the 24mm focal length:

24mm lens comparison
Lens name min focus distance (in cm) max macro magnification
1 Tamron 24mm F/2.8 Di III 12 1:2
2 Canon RF 24mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM 14 1:2
3 Samyang 24mm f/1.8 AF 19 1:5.2
4 Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM 24 1:5.8
5 Panasonic LUMIX S 24mm F1.8 25 1:6.6
6 Nikon NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8 S 24.5 1:6.7
7 Sigma 24mm f/2 DG DN 25 1:7.1
8 Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG DN 24 1:7.6
9 Samyang AF 24mm f/2.8 FE 24 1:7.6
10 Sony FE 24mm F2.8 G 24 1:7.6
11 Viltrox AF 24mm f/1.8 30 1:10

In July 2022 Canon announced a compact fast 24mm with 1:2 magnification in the form of the RF 24mm f/1.8.

On the Sony side, we recently had an extensive 24mm roundup for Sony cameras and you have the inexpensive Tamron 24mm F/2.8 with a 1:2 magnification (be sure to check our full review for more info on the pros and cons of this lens). For Nikon, your options at the moment are pretty limited when it comes to close-up capabilities in this focal length.

On the complete other side of the spectrum, the Viltrox 24mm min focusing distance in cm is bigger than the lens focal length in mm – which is never a good sign – and indeed it has 1:10 magnification.

35mm focal length

Possibly the most popular wide-angle full frame focal length is 35mm:

35mm lens comparison
Lens name min focus distance (in cm) max macro magnification
1 Tamron 35mm F/2.8 Di III OSD 15 1:2
2 Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM  17 1:2
3 Sony FE 35 mm F1.8  22 1:4.1
4 Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM  25 1:4.3
5 Panasonic LUMIX S 35mm F1.8  24 1:4.5
6 Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH 27 1:5
7 Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art 30 1:5.1
8 Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S 25 1:5.2
9 Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art 30 1:5.4
10 Sony-Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35 mm F1.4 ZA 30 1:5.5
11 Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE II 29 1:5.5
12 Sigma 35mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary 27 1:5.7
13 Samyang AF 35mm F1.8 FE 29 1:5.8
14 Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE 30 1:5.8
15 Samyang AF 35mm F2.8 FE 35 1:8.3
16 Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA 35 1:8.3
17 Viltrox 35mm F/1.8 40 1:10

35mm is one of the most popular focal lengths for FF cameras with all the major players participating some with more than one lens.

Tamron again has a very attractive option for close-up shooters with 1:2 magnification and 15cm min close-up distance. Canon also has a very attractive 35mm RF option with a 17cm min close-up distance and 1:2 magnification.

Both Sony lenses are above average when it comes to close-up focus distance and macro magnification with all other lenses being fairly average with around 30cm distance and 1:5 or worse magnification (the Nikon is kind of strange with 25cm close-up distance but only 1:5.2 macro magnification).

Viltrox again closes the list here. It seems that the company puts very little attention on close-up distance and macro capabilities.

On a personal note, we would really like to see full macro (1:1) lenses in the 35mm focal lengths, these can be useful for close-up work with some environment in the shot.

50mm focal length

Arguably the most popular focal length for FF is 50mm (although at the moment there are more 35mm FF lenses on the market):

50mm lens comparison
Lens name min focus distance (in cm) max macro magnification
1 Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro  16 1:1
2 Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 50mm f/2.8 Macro  16 1:1
3 Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM  30 1:4
4 Leica APO-Summicron-SL 50mm f/2 ASPH 35 1:5
5 Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM 40 1:5.2
6 Sony FE 50mm f/2.5 G 35 1:5.5
7 Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM 40 1:5.8
8 Samyang 50mm F/1.4 AF II 40 1:6.2
9 Panasonic Lumix S PRO 50mm f/1.4 44 1:6.6
10 Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S 45 1:6.6
11 Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA 45 1:6.6
12 Samyang AF 50mm F1.4 FE 45 1:6.7
13 Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 45 1:7.1
14 Panasonic Lumix S 50mm f/1.8 45 1:7.1
15 Viltrox 50mm F1.8 (FE/Z mounts) 55 1:10
16 Leica Summilux-SL 50mm F/1.4 ASPH 60 1:10

Another very popular focal length is of course 50mm. Interestingly at the moment, Tamron has no representation here, however, both Sony and Nikon have lenses with 1:1 magnification and 16cm min focusing distance which is nice to see.

Canon also has an above-average option with the RF 50mm f/1.8 which has a 30cm min close-up distance and 1:4 maximum macro magnification.

The rest of the lenses on this list are fairly average with the compact Sony 50mm f/2.5 G having a decent 35cm min close-up distance but only 1:5.5 macro magnification. Viltrox once again comes last.

85mm focal length

Finally, we have the most popular tele-portrait focal length – 85mm:

85mm lens comparison
Lens name min focus distance (in cm) max macro magnification
1 Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM  35 1:2
2 Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 80 1:7.6
3 Viltrox AF 85mm f/1.8 FE II 80 1:7.6
4 YONGNUO YN85mm F1.8S DF DSM 80 1:7.6
5 Panasonic LUMIX S 85mm F1.8 80 1:7.9
6 ZEISS Batis 85mm f/1.8 80 1:8
7 Tokina atx-m 85mm F1.8 FE 80 1:8.3
8 Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S 80 1:8.3
9 Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L RF USM 85 1:8.3
10 Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM 85 1:8.3
11 Samyang AF 85mm F1.4 FE II 85 1:8.3
12 Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art 85 1:8.4
13 Samyang AF 85mm F1.4 FE 90 1:9

85mm is a popular portrait focal length, however as you can see it is not a popular focal length for those looking for close-up work. The only exception here is the Canon 85mm f/2 which has a fantastic close-up range of only 35cm and 1:2 macro magnification.

If you want this type of tele-macro lens for the Sony or Nikon platforms you will need to look for 90mm or 105mm options instead.

Conclusion and some general points

As we mentioned, we focused here only on mirrorless AF lenses only. If you are OK adapting DSLR lenses, not to mention using MF lenses, new or adapted vintage ones, this can open a whole range of options for you. Plus, you can always resort to extension tubes and other techniques to improve your close-up capabilities, but all of these are beyond the scope of this short article.

So, what did we learn by looking at all these numbers? First, as a general rule of thumb, at least for the focal lengths that we examined, a lens with a minimum focus distance equal or higher than its focal length in cm is typically not ideal for close-up work.

Another interesting point is the connection between the minimum focal length of a lens and its maximum macro magnification. Before we started working on this article, we naturally assumed that there is a direct correlation between the two and that two lenses with the same min close-up distance will have the same maximum macro magnification.

While that seems to be true for most cases, there are some cases where this doesn’t seem to hold true. For example, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM has a min close-up distance of 40cm and 1:5.2 max magnification, while the recent Samyang 50mm F/1.4 AF II (review coming up soon) has the same min close-up distance but a 1:6.2 max magnification.

Since we suspect that the correlation still holds true, we can only guess that one or both of these lenses might not be true 50mm designs, but that is just a conjecture on our part and if you have other thoughts on this matter, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

We hope you will come out of this little video/article with some insights into the close-up and macro capabilities of different popular mirrorless focal lengths.

If there are any full-frame mirrorless AF lenses that we didn’t include here, please feel free to share them and we shall add their info to the article.

You can check out more LensVid exclusive articles and reviews on the following link.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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