By installing different lens, interchangeable lens digital cameras may adapt to different applications. Some may tell you that you need macro lens to shoot insect photos at short distance. Some may tell you that you need tele-macro lens to shoot insects far away without disturbing them. The truth is, you may use virtually any kind of lens depending on the effect you need. In fact, even fish-eye lens can be used to take great insect photos.
Zoom lens (Kit grade)
Surprisingly, those cheap 3x zoom lens bundled with the camera are great for casual insert photography. At tele end and at closest focusing distance, you may get about 1:3 scale. This is good enough for most butterflies. However, to get such magnification ratio, you will need to shoot the photo at less than 30cm away from the butterlfies.
Zoom lens (medium to large aperture)
To most casual users, these lens are typical upgrade. However, these lens are not very good for close up butterfly photos. Typically, they cannot focus at very close distance. Even at tele end and at closest focusing distance, you typically get 1:5 to 1:7 scale only. That is usually too small for coin size butterflies.
Zoom lens (Ultra zoom)
Like medium to large aperture zoom lens, many casual users consider these lens upgrade to the kit lens. Unfortunately, these ultra zoom lens are not keen on close up photos. Due to the “breathing” phenomenon, the angle of view is wider than usual when it is focusing at close distance. Although such a 200mm lens may be capable to focus at 50cm or less, the resultant view angle may be similar to a 100mm true macro lens.
Zoom lens (Tele zoom)
Tele-photo lens are viable options for insect photo. 70-300mm zoom lens are usually good entry level options. However, if you are considering such a lens for insect photography, you will need to check the minimum focusing distance and the magnification. You will need 1:3 to 1:4 maximum magnification and 1.2m to 1.5m minimum focusing distance. You don’t necessarily get better magnification with a 500mm zoom lens.
Fixed focal Macro lens
Macro lens (or Micro lens in the case of Nikon) are lens optimized for high magnification close up photography. With modern macro lens, you usually get 1:2 or 1:1 magnification. At similar magnification, true macro lens delivers better image quality than fixed focal tele lens. True macro lens also offers more accurate focusing at close distance. However, auto and manual focus may not be very accurate if you focus to objects far away (e.g. 5m or beyond).
Fixed focal Telephoto lens
Typically, you get similar working distance and magnification like the zoom lens. Canon EF 300mm F4L IS USM and Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED are both great lens for butterfly photography. Quality is clearly a step up over tele zoom lens. Like tele zoom lens, you don’t necessarily get better magnification with 400mm or 500mm lens. In fact, 300mm at F/2.8 aperture can only focus at something further away. You will need to check the minimum focusing distance and the magnification. If you are focusing at some objects far away, fixed focal tele lens are usually more accurate than macro lens of the same focal length.