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Canon Macro for Handheld Field Use

I have a T6i DSLR with a Canon 18-135mm lens. I'm looking for a suitable field handheld macro lens, not requiring a tri/monopod as I don't have time/patience for the setup when on my walks, and few subjects would remain for the photo. Recommendations for best lens for hand-held shots, often with somewhat limited light (in the woods)?

I shoot animals, insects, plants/flowers, etc.... and sunsets, clouds, and almost anything notable when I take my daily walk. With animals and plants, I'm actively documenting what I find living in my local habitat, so quality pictures, and close-ups for smaller critters, flowers and so on are important. Feedback welcome.

I've even given some thought to a bridge camera as I end up taking somewhat distant insect/bug pictures at times (can't get close enough), and am often much farther away from animals than I'd like. Tradeoff would be quality of super-zoom on bridge, vs. taking a 170mm shot and digitally cropping in so far that it becomes quite problematic as well. (I have also considered getting a 2nd camera so that I can always have the 18-135 ready, and have second camera with a macro or telephoto prime (~400mm) always ready as well... which also begs question about huge range of super-zoom bridge vs. inconvenience of multiple cameras and lenses)

Input welcome!

Examples of shots I take can be found at Crazy About Nature (I educate/inform locals on what I see when I'm out walking, helping more people appreciate what lives in our local habitats).

Animal Guy

Walkabout lens-Canon
I regularly shoot a Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and fitting it to Canon EOS 7D.
Outfit is HEAVY but I am extremely happy with the results.
I routinely hand hold, no tripod - post process in Adobe PS CC. Great combo for nature walks, birds, flowers, bugs, etc. all fall into range.

EOS 7D will not allow Auto Focus with 1.4 extender.

Hope this helps

Thanks for input. I eventu
Thanks for input.

I eventually went from my Canon Rebel (T6s) to a Sony RX10m4. The latter is a bridge camera with smaller sensor, but the advantage being a good quality 24-600 lens (equivalent). I like the capability, but I seemed to have gotten a lemon prone to fits of electrical/software problems at times.

I was hoping they'd come out with a Mark 5 by now, but no such luck. Alternatively was reconsidering moving back to a crop sensor (APSC), and using a Tamron 18-400mm lens.

No matter what I get it will never be flexible enough, although there is slow improvement over time.

venus works for me
For the past 2 years I've been using the Venus laowa 60mm f/2.8 macro 2:1 which allows u to go to infinity. The main complaint most ppl have is that everything is manual. I haven't compared with other lenses though.

I shoot one handed because usually I'm holding a plant still with the other hand. I use the on-camera flash so it's not too heavy. Unfortunately this doesn't allow anything faster than 1/200 on my t5i. But I'm always running after a bee or something so having a tripod + external flash is just a nuisance. I'm sure I can get better results if paired with macro flash but those things are expensive plus I'd probably needed to use two hands at that point. When I need extra light I adjust aperture & iso. I don't really know what I'm doing but I get ok results with this lens. I like it because I don't have to switch.

Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
I've commented at some length (maybe too much) in other bugguide photography threads on the Panasonic Lumix FZ 1000, the bridge camera I'm using now.

My kit consists of the camera and a Marumi 62mm DHG Macro +5, and a few other things, all in a belt pack. I modified the belt pack with a "holster" for the camera, but mostly carry the camera in my hand, using a small, two-finger strap. It's about the size of a DSLR, but a little lighter.

The FZ 1000 has full manual control if you want it, two ways to zoom, a bewildering array of special modes (of which I only use a few). There are four custom settings. Crucially for me, it has a fully articulating LCD.

The camera will do nice closeups from a few feet away. I can't quite shoot my toes when standing, but can get good shots of medium small insects a foot or so in front of my toes. This uses the so-called "extended" zoom at 10 MP. In this camera, this isn't an ordinary digital zoom, but uses a smaller portion of the sensor than the full 20 MP modes. The results are quite nice, and I've gotten shots from ten or more feet away that would be impossible otherwise. In this mode, focussing for each shot, it shoots 7 fps.
The counterintuitive downside of this mode is that it's so convenient that I've found myself shooting from a standing position often instead of getting low and up close.

With the Marumi 62mm +5 supplementary lens, I can get excellent 20 MP photos at longish close-up distances (20 MP). Using this lens, the distances are at least several inches, sometimes even a bit longer than I'd like. The depth of field is, of course, quite small. I have a belt pouch for the supplementary lens, and with a little practice it's easy to put the lens on and take it off safely.

And the camera does 4K video, so you can pull an 8MP single frame out of the 30 fps video.

And, with a very good eye-level LCD viewer, it's great for non-insect zoom (up to 1200 mm equivalent) and non-zoom shots.

Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
Stephen Hart and I seem to be the "cheering section" for this bridge camera. Agree with all he's written. I've now taken over 200K shots at every distance, including the "blood moon", and every size, down to a 1.5mm springtail, and still love it.

It might be worth noting that this camera has a Leica-branded lens, a 1" sensor that allows more cropping without pixelation than many point-and-shoots (to about an 8mm critter), autofocus with manual override, focus-peaking, and a very good OIS (necessary for me as I only do hand-held).

I have the Raynox clip-on achromatic close-up filter for smaller objects (less than 8mm) and quick removal, and use the EVF exclusively.

Supplementary Lenses
I bought a Raynox for another camera, a Sony QX 10 I bought for microscope work, but haven't compared it to the Marumi on the Lumix.

I didn't mention the moo, but I have also taken moon photos, handheld, that are spectacular in the detail they show, at least.

There's a very interesting thing I've noticed about the active optical image stabilizer. In long zoom mode, it's very hard to hold the camera still, but the OIS helps a lot. There's clearly feedback making it easier to physically keep your aim. (On the other hand, the OIS is noisy and probably consumes battery.)

Suggestions for your macro
I just came across this question, and thought to comment. You have quite possibly decided anyway, but here goes.
There are several macros to choose from for your camera, and a considerable range in cost. The new generation of macros can have image stabilization, and that adds to the cost. Among those with image stabilization I think the top macro for Canon is their 100mm f/2.8. Coming in at a close 2nd is the Tamron 90mm (their image stabilization is called 'vibration control'). 3rd is the Sigma 105mm, with 'optical stabilization'. I base this ranking from the overall rankings for these lenses provided by Digital Photography Review which does pretty detailed tests of different lenses. If you want an 'ultimate' for Canon macros, there is the Canon MP-E 65mm. That lens is a beast, zooming from 1:1 mag --> 5x mag. It can be used hand held, but it is challenging, and it does not have image stabilization.
Of course if you don't need image stabilization (I don't use it, and I regularly go over 1:1, hand held, with extension tubes), each of the above lenses, save for the MP-E, has an earlier generation without that feature, and they are a LOT cheaper.


Thanks for the information. I briefly looked at the Canon 100mm f2.8 and MP-E 65mm. Saw some wonderful handheld shots at 5x, but doubt I would get that good. What concerned me was the note the reviewer made about needing to be a couple cm from the subject... that would limit what I can shoot a bit, but at least as detrimental would slow my walks down taking more set up time, and perhaps even more bending - something I try to not overdo when I go out (some back issues).

I've had some serious problems with by T6s, and although I think my extended warranty covers it, my more immediate focus in a new camera (I've walked everyday for 10 years, and taken pictures every day for at least 8 years). I was investigating the newer 80D, but have not gotten far and open to suggestions. I've been photographing some deer the last couple evenings, but the T6s has rather marginal low-light performance... but of course for enough dollars, many problems can be remedied.

Thanks again for the input!


Yes, you may have to get a fe
Yes, you may have to get a few cm's to the subject if you want a 1 to 1 size ratio (actual size of subject on your image sensor). I would've loved to get a 150 or 180mm macro lens but couldn't afford it. So I got a Tamron 90mm and I absolutely LOVE it. It's very versatile. BTW, I do the exact same thing as you. I walk each around Hampshire Lake where I live and try to photo all living Animal subjects I see. Loved your tadpole series! I have 2 lenses I use (both Tamron). 70-300mm and the 90. If it is bird season I use the zoom. In summer I use the macro.

Nice to know I'm not the only one tempted to take shots of everything. Appreciated the feedback. I was back to one pond today and just now seeing the tiny recently emerged chorus frogs beginning to perch on some vegetation... frogs have always been a big favorite since I was a kid and had to catch them all. Now I only feel the need to catch photos of them, and try to avoid disrupting them (or anything else) if possible.

My situation changed a bit since I first posted this, and I'd actually started considering stepping back to a bridge camera, a sony superzoom with just the 1" sensor. but with single built in lens of 35mm equivalent of 24-600mm, at F2.8-4.0 across that range, it sounded mighty tempting for an all-around camera / lens (Sony RX-10 III). The 1" sensor has been re-engineered to pick-up 70% more photons, and the rig is weather sealed.

I currently have a T6s, but it's somewhat damaged, but could get that fixed on extended warranty perhaps. I began rethinking what I wanted to do, using the T6s, and being down to my Canon 18-135mm which offers very little actual zoom (compared to what you can see by eye, no more than 50%, but I suppose 80mm is more like life-size). I had originally thought about buying the Tamron that came out over a year ago, replacing their original 18-270mm with an 16-300mm... but now I see they have just announced a 18-400mm (to be selling by the end of this month. Meanwhile Sony is rampant with rumors of a Sony RX-10 IV coming out, as it's been 18 months since the III came out (just 12 mos after the II came out).

In neither case would it provide the true macro lens, but both in macro mode would offer a notable improvement over what I can do now, while also providing the long end. I just wish it was more like 12-400mm (35mm equiv 19-640mm)... as I'm a weather lover (former career also), and I can't get decent amount of the sky at 16mm (35mm equiv 25.6mm), let alone 18mm (35mm equiv 29.2mm). Downside with Tamron is low light capability with f5-f6.3 rating. Also, I think the canon spaces to about 2.5 steps of stabilization, whereas the SONY RX-10 III advertises and reportedly tests out to about 4.5 steps, making the distant show perhaps clearer with greater light and stabilization despite the smaller sensor. (Sony can also shoot a couple/few seconds of video at 960fps, and I thought that might provide some very interesting captures for the insect world (as long as it's roughly in the depth of field, because I'm sure the focus won't adjust quite so fast!)

Of course, the problem is, there is always improved technology just around the corner, and one can get stuck waiting for it far too long without much effort.

Some day I might just find myself with 2 cameras to carry since my type of photography really doesn't allow me to change lenses quickly, and would put them at risk if I did try and change quickly.

Sony recently dropped the price of the RX-10 III by $200, so wondering if that might be the sign they are trying to get all the sales on the margin they can before coming out with a new model.

i appreciate the continued input as I struggle with the options... sometimes choice is not always helpful, lol.

Before you buy a new lens you
Before you buy a new lens you should look into the Raynox DCR-250!! It is a closeup lens that attaches to the front of basically any lens and reduces your minimum focusing distance. It is easy to attach and remove for switching between macro and regular shots.

I use it with the Canon 100mm 2.8L and can get to 2:1 enlargement. With a crop sensor this equates to the picture being about 11mm across. I don't know how it will be with your lens, but I imagine having similar results.

At this magnification you will pretty much need to have some sort of flash setup to get a decent depth of field. This can be as simple as a diffuser attached to the lens and on camera pop-up flash. Check out for more complex examples.

As for a new camera, you should look into the 7D Mark II if you want to continue using a crop sensor.

Here are some example shots of the 100mm 2.8L and Raynox DCR-250

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