Macro Lenses For Underwater Photography

A guide to macro lenses and close up wet lenses available for underwater photography
By Jenna Szerlag

Nature’s patterns and color come to life with underwater macro photography. The mesmerizing detail that dedicated 1:1 macro lenses capture show textures that we otherwise would have never realized existed. Both dSLR and mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras offer some incredible macro choices to add to your underwater arsenal.

Canon Rebel SL3 with EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM f/6.3, 1/200, ISO 200

What is a Macro Lens?

Macro lenses have the ability to focus close to the subject, generally filling the frame at a 1:1 true life size ratio. The longer the lens (like a 100/105mm) the greater working distance is provided which can be beneficial when photographing skittish critters.

Choosing A Macro Lens

Choosing your lens is important. It is possibly even more important than choosing your camera. I always say the image can only be as good as what the camera “sees” so you certainly don’t want a lens that is lacking in quality. So how do you choose a lens?  

Most are brand specific. Lens mount adapters are available to interchange lens/camera body manufacturers but outfitting the combinations for underwater photography may be limited. Be sure to check if pairing the housing with the required port  is offered for your specific setup.  If you already have the camera body then your choices have been narrowed down for you. But what if you’re just beginning and have the opportunity to start fresh?  Here is a list of popular macro prime lenses available for underwater photography. 

 

Canon 5DSr with EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens f/22, 1/250, ISO 100

Common Macro Terms

(Visit this link to see a full list of underwater photography glossary)

Prime Lens = A lens that has a fixed focal length. Prime lenses are known to be sharper than zoom lenses. (e.g. 100mm prime as opposed to 18-55mm zoom lens). 

Full Frame = Referring to the size of the camera’s sensor, a full frame sensor is equivalent to 35mm film or generally 36mm x 24mm.

APS-C = “Advanced Photo System Classic” (as opposed to panoramic or high definition) referring to the size of the camera’s sensor.  More commonly referred to as crop sensors and generally measuring 22mmx15mm.  

Full Frame vs APS-C Format Lens Designs = Lenses designed for full frame sensors can be used on the smaller APS-C cameras because their sensor only sees center of the “cropped” image.  However, APS-C format lenses will produce vignette around the edges as the full frame sensor "view" is much larger than that of the cropped APS-C.

Mirrorless = Digital cameras that do not have a mirror within the body like all dSLR and SLR single lens reflex cameras. Mirrorless mounts on camera differ from that of dSLRs.

Wet Lens = A lens that can be removed while underwater.  Wet lenses attach to the outside portion of the underwater housing and have no interference with the housing’s ability to protect the camera inside.

Diopter = The unit of measurement used to descibe the strength of a close up lens (e.g. +7 diopter)

Close up Lens = A 2nd lens or filter in addition to the primary lens that magnifies the subject.

1:1 Magnification = True Macro / Life Size 

Chromatic Aberration = Unwanted hues at a pixel level most commonly found in high contrast areas in the image. Sometimes only visible when inspecting the fine detail of the image but from far away it may come across as blurry.

Low Dispersion Glass = Reduces chromatic aberration.

 

7mm Danielle’s Nudibranch

 

Canon Macro Lenses

Canon’s EF line is compatible with both APS-C cropped sensor and full frame Canon dSLR camera bodies.  The EF-EOS-R or EF-EOS-M mount adapter makes the tried and true EF lineup compatible with their new mirrorless bodies. RF mount lenses are dedicated to the Canon mirrorless line along with EF-M mount lenses which are compatible with their APS-C type mirrorless bodies.  

Canon macro lens options for underwater photography

 

Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

 

 

Canon 60mm f/2.8 EF-S Macro 

  • EF-S Mount - Compatible with APS-C cameras
  • Inner focusing silent Ultra Sonic Motor
  • Equivalent to 96mm (on 35mm/full frame)
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

Canon 100mm f/2.8L EF IS USM Macro  

  • EF Mount - Compatible with all Canon dSLR cameras (mirrorless w/ Canon mount adapter)
  • The most popular choice for Canon macro photography
  • Longer working distance than the 60mm (you won’t have to get as close to skittish subjects) – a must for super macro
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio
  • Great to pair with macro close up lens
  • Image Stabilizer and Ultra Sonic Motor 
  • L Series Professional Grade Optics

(Read the full review on the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens)

Canon Rebel SL3 with EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens, f/6.3, 1/160, ISO 400

 

Canon 5DSr EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens f/13, 1/200, ISO 100

Nikon Macro Lenses

Nikon’s Nikkor F Mount lenses are compatible with all Nikon dSLR camera bodies. The Z Mount is designed for the mirrorless lineup and with the FTZ adapter, the F Mount lenses are compatible with their mirrorless bodies. 

 

Nikon macro lens option for underwater photography

Nikkor f/2.8G ED 105mm Macro Lens

 

AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED 

  • F Mount- Compatible with Nikon dSLR cameras (mirrorless w/ adapter)
  • Great general macro lens especially for black water diving
  • Silent Wave Motor
  • Smaller and much lighter than the 100mm
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

AF-S VR Micro NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED 

  • F Mount – Compatible with all Nikon slr cameras (mirrorless w/ FTZ adapter)
  • Excellent choice for underwater macro photography
  • Works well with macro close up wet lenses
  • Longer working distance than the 60mm (best for skittish subjects / super macro)
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

(Read about the differences between the 60mm and 100/105mm here.)

Nikon Z7, Nikkor 105mm Macro Lens, Ikelite Housing, f/9, 1/125, ISO 200

Sony Macro Lenses

The Sony FE lens lineup is designed for full frame Sony mirrorless camera bodies and compatible with their APS-C mirrorless cameras.  

Sony macro lens options for underwater photography

Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

 

Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

  • Great choice for Sony APS-C sensors
  • Wider field of view vs the FE 90mm
  • 1:1 macro focusing capability
  • Significantly lighter than the Sony FE 90mm

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens

  • The “go to” choice for Sony macro shooters
  • Great for super macro with longer working distance than the FE 50mm
  • G Lens quality with OSS built in stabilization
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

A tiny blenny stands out with detail that only a 61 megapixel camera could capture. Taken with the Sony A7R IV, Ikelite A7R IV housing, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, the Sony 90mm macro lens, and the Bluewater +7 diopter. 1/250, f/11, ISO 200

 

Sigma Macro Lenses

Sigma offers a variety of mounts to suit many camera bodies mainly Nikon, Canon and Sony.  A wide range of focal lengths are available from the 17-70mm (1 to 2.8 macro ratio)  zoom to the 105mm f/2.8 DH OS HSM macro with optical stabilizer.

 

Sigma macro lens options for underwater photography

 

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro

  • DG- Digital Full Frame and APS-C Compatible
  • Low Dispersion and Aspherical Elements
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

  • DG- Digital Full Frame and APS-C Compatible
  • Super Multi Layer Coating
  • Most working distance than other Sigma macro lenses (best for skittish subjects)
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 Macro Lens

Olympus Macro Lenses

The M.Zuiko micro four-thirds system lenses are small, lightweight yet powerful lenses and compatible with both the PEN and OM-D cameras with focus bracketing modes.  Check out the recommended underwater settings and macro tips for the PEN EPL5 and previous PEN cameras. 

Olympus macro lens options for underwater photography

 

ED 30mm f/3.5 Macro

  • Micro Four-Thirds System
  • Two Aspherical Elements, One EDA Element
  • Equivalent to 60mm (35mm)
  • Close working distance

ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro

  • Micro Four-Thirds System
  • One Extra Low Dispersion Element
  • Equivalent to 120mm (35mm)
  • 1:1 True Macro Life Size Ratio

Read the full review on the Olympus 60mm lens here.

Olympus 60mm macro lens

 

Panasonic Macro Lenses

Panasonic offers a wide variety of great lenses with the micro four-thirds mount. Their 30mm and 45mm macro lenses, with their wide field of view, allow for photographing larger underwater subjects.  Take a look at the full review of Panasonic’s 45mm Macro here.

Panasonic macro lens options for underwater photography

 

G Macro 30mm f/2.8 ASPH

  • Micro Four-Thirds System
  • One Aspherical Element
  • Equivalent to 60mm (35mm)
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • Close working distance

G Leica Macro 45mm f/2.8 ASPH

  • Micro Four-Thirds System
  • One Aspherical Element, One ED Element
  • Equivalent to 90mm (35mm)
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • In collaboration with Leica’s strict quality tolerances

 

Panasonic Leica 45mm lens f/2.8, 1/250, ISO 200

 

Venus Optics Laowa 24mm Macro Lens

The uniquely designed 24mm ultra macro Laowa lens is compatible with Nikon,Canon and Sony camera bodies however at this time Nauticam is the only housing manufacturer outfitting this lens for underwater use. Read the full review on Venus Optics Laowa Macro Probe “Bug Eye” Lens. Similarly, Inon makes the UFL-MR130 Macro-Fisheye Wet Lens designed for the Canon EF-S 60mm lens specifically for an Inon housing. 

Laowa Macro Probe Lens Nauticam Housing

Macro Wet Lenses

Close up wet lenses are a fun way to increase the macro capabilities of the camera lens underwater. Wet lenses attach to the outside portion of the underwater housing and have no interference with the housing’s ability to protect the camera inside. By changing the working distance between the lens and the subject, close up wet lenses allow the lens to focus even closer to your subject filling the frame beyond life size. There are numerous manufacturers, diopter strengths and multipliers available today most with the standard 67mm thread to fit the front of your port.  

Macromate Mini for GoProNauticam SMC-1

Wet macro lens options for underwater photography

 

Visit Bluewater Photo for a complete list of macro wet lenses and the Macro Mini Mate specifically designed for GoPro users.

 

Nauticam’s SMC-2 with 67mm flip adapter

See the Nauticam Close Up Lens holder at Bluewater Photo Store

 

Blue Dragon Nudibranch Cerata side by side Canon 5DSr with EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens with Nauticam SMC-1 on right

Read the comparison between Nauticam SMC and Subsee +10 close up lenses here.

Olympus EPM1 with Bluewater Photo’s +7 macro diopter

Lens Adapters

Combining your choice macro lens with your current camera body may be possible with the many adapters available today.  For instance, a metabones adapter makes it easy to pair a Sony body with a Nikon lens. Or if you wish to take the tried and true Canon EF mount lenses and use them with the Canon mirrorless line, Canon offers an EF-M or EF-R adapter. Wet lens flip adapters are a must when switching back and forth between your primary macro lens and an added super macro close up wet lens.  Check port options with the housing manufacturer to be sure the chosen combination is available.

Further reading – Super Macro How to Tips

Want to learn more about Underwater Macro Photography? These tips and settings are a must read.

 

 

Shop macro lenses, macro diopters, and more on Bluewater Photo for all the housing, accessory and shooting tips you need to bring home excellent underwater video.

 

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a long-time Hawaii resident, Jenna moved to Maui in 2002 to pursue her interest in diving. Discovering the beauty of the islands and the desire to show it to the world led Jenna into her passion for nature photography. She pursued her education by attending hands-on workshops and conferences with respected educators mastering the camera topside before taking her photography underwater.  

Jenna enjoys travel and adventure and has recently become a certified Hawaii Marine Naturalist. Her images have been published in Forbes Magazine, Travel and Leisure, calendars and several other publications. She has been a professional contributor for Pacific Stock since 2012, the largest worldwide stock photography agency exclusive to the Hawaii and Asia Pacific Regions. You can find her images at www.jennaszerlag.com and on Instagram @seaofphotos.

 

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