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Deciding between 60mm and 100mm macro lenses for underwater photography

Scorpion Fish
A Scorpion Fish sits on the Dari Laut wreck, a once floating casino. Photo taken with a 60mm macro lens (manual focus). Apologies for the backscatter — still trying to figure out how to avoid the dust particles.

On the surface, there’s no question about it. A 100mm macro lens would have been an excellent choice for shooting macro. The closer you can get, the better. Underwater, it’s a different story.

I was reading up on underwater macro photography and the two best options presented were the 60mm and 100mm equivalents for both Canon and Nikon (the latter has a 105mm option) and it seems that the verdict, amidst the technical mumbo jumbo is how close you actually want to be with the subject.

You can technically get the same shot with both lenses, with the 60mm being being about a foot closer to the subject. My friend Wowie told me to consider taking photos of underwater life looking at you vs underwater life in their behavior. For instance, shooting a Christmas tree worm in full bloom (below) up close will more than likely get them startled and hide inside the coral. You’re more likely to get behavior shots of the critters when you have a 100mm macro lens.

Christmas Tree Worm

Below is an example of a squirrel clown fish slowly making its way out of an anemone. If confronted head on, I’ll be getting shots of it becoming aggressive with my camera. This was taken using a 100mm lens, cropped a bit. The “fish behavior” choice isn’t of course all-encompassing but it does make sense.

Squirrel Clown Fish

So with two days of road reef testing for each lens, I had some realizations. It seemed to be easier to shoot with the 60mm because I could go closer to my subjects. Yeah it sounds like I’m contradicting myself but “getting close” is how I roll. Overall, it just felt more comfortable. Secondly, I had better lighting shooting with the 60mm. Attribute it to the strobe positioning perhaps, but my shots seemed more satisfying and well lit up close. It may be different with 2 strobes (I only use one), but I guess we’ll never know until I really make the leap into investing more than PHP 50,000.00 for god damned lights!

Although shooting the 100mm lens seemed more versatile I had to go with the more affordable 60mm macro lens MAINLY because of price. It cost me PHP 18,800.00 from Henry’s compared to the 100mm lens at PHP26,000.00. I looked around for second hand lenses but found that these were prized possessions and it would be crazy for a photographer to let go of them.

There’s another major difference wen shooting underwater compared to top-side. You see, I use a Canon 350D underwater and believe me, it already is tough to shoot with a DSLR. Imagine that you’re viewing your subject from the viewfinder encased in a housing plus you’re also wearing a mask. That means your eyes are roughly 2-3 inches away from the tiny viewfinder! It’s already so hard to shoot a pygmy seahorse the size of a half grain of rice, it’s already second nature to move in closer! The 60mm lens also has a faster auto focus mechanism so the difference in milliseconds matters when trying to get the perfect shot.

Squirrel Clown

Let’s dive! Let’s shoot! In my next entry, I’ll show off the complete underwater photography gear. For my video gear, check this out!

By Jayvee Fernandez

Jayvee Fernandez is a tech enthusiast, EAN certified SCUBA Diver and underwater photographer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. His photos and videos have appeared in various international and local publications including Random House Germany, Discovery Channel Canada, and CNN.

7 replies on “Deciding between 60mm and 100mm macro lenses for underwater photography”

hi lauren! THANKS! the first photo is super nice save for the few dust particles floating about.. trying to learn how to minimize this. but apart from that, the scorpion fish shot is my best photo so far!

so lahat ng may kinalaman sa samsung at pacontest mo tinurn off mo ang comments? haha DUWAG! guilty ka kasi. hays sa susunod pumili ka ng winner na talagang based sa deadline at mechanics at bago ka magdeclare ng winner dapat nadouble check mo na kung valid yun. lam mo yun pinagintay mo kaming lahat tapos mali pala yung winner in the end wala na lang yung nanalo? kamusta ka naman? naisip mo ba yung mga sumali, yung effort at time nila para mag-isip sa mga pakulo mo. hay ewan baka yung samsung phone magkaissue din ha. AYUSIN MO yan sa susunod.

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