Shooting for the Stars: Canon Compact Macro 50mm


A macro lens for shooting stars? I know. You think I’m crazy.

I had my doubts as well. When I first acquired this lens, I reserved it only for the day, but surprisingly, it works quite well at night.

Keep in mind, It’s not a requirement to have expensive lenses in order to capture the night sky. Chances are, if you own a DSLR, you already have one in your bag. Many people own a standard 50mm lens. If you’re one of these people, try using it.

A prime 50mm lens is one of the cheapest on the market. Despite the price tag, they’re not as shitty as you may believe. These days, zoom lens are the ‘hip’ thing to own, but a prime 50mm, despite it’s price tag, is an invaluable tool for any night sky photographer.

…Or terrestrial photographer.

In particular, I’m going to discus Canon’s Compact Macro 50mm lens in a bit more detail.

Bottom half of constellation Orion

The Canon Compact Macro costs about $270.00 and the aperture range is f/2.5-32. The macro ratio is 1:2. It weighs 9.88 oz. There is a coating on the lens as well, I assume to help with ghosting and lens flare.

The Compact Macro sacrifices a bit of speed for the capability of focusing up close on terrestrial objects, like jumping spiders! For me, personally, I don’t mind that it’s f/2.5.

Therefor, this lens is quite versatile. The ability to focus up-close means it has one more attribute.

You can pick up a standard Canon EF 50mm for about $100.00. Those lenses are f/1.8. Cheaper and faster than the Compact Macro.

My only gripe about this lens is the nasty chromatic aberration that inflicts bright objects. If it weren’t for this hindrance, for its price, it would be a damn good lens. Because of this hindrance, it will have to be content with only being good.

At least for night sky work. For terrestrial photography, it’s a damn good lens for its price.

Crop of Orion’s Belt. Take note of the nasty purple halos

The front of the lens is supported deep within a 6-bladed circular diaphragm, known as a ‘floating optical design’. This helps to eliminate lens flare and other stray light from entering the barrel. A great feature if you’re shooting near street lamps. More lenses should be designed in this fashion. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass to clean, but certainly manageable.

Optical floating design

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using this lens to image stars:

  • Expose for no longer than 10”
  • Open eyes to creative composition

10” of unguided exposure will help ensure stars retain their spherical shape. Any longer and image quality will suffer.

This 50mm lens offers a versatile angle of view of 46°.

As I say, its limited only by your imagination and you’re preconceived notions of what will make a decent shot. Many types of foreground objects comfortably fit within its frame, enhancing the view on any night sky imagery.

Trees and Jupiter-2-1
Jupiter in the Trees

Unlike with wide angles, a 50mm lens gives you a bit of reach. Not much, especially when it comes to the sky. Nonetheless, that bit of focal length makes a big difference. With a wide-angle lens, I’d never be able to frame a shot like the one of Jupiter above.

PLUS, It easily fits in a pocket or bag, making it negligible to haul around. I don’t know about you, but I have enough bullshit to carry.

Focusing is easy. Or at the least easier compared to zoom lenses. Rack the barrel to infinity and you’re good to go.

Despite the chromatic aberration, the Canon 50mm Compact Macro is worth owning. Don’t let the Macro capability convince you not to try using it on the sky. Give it a shot if you own this lens and haven’t thought about using it on the sky.

Overall, the Canon Compact Macro gets the job done for night sky work. They’re lenses out on the market that are more well suited for capturing starlight, particularly a 50mm that is f/1.8.

None are as versatile as the Compact Macro for terrestrial or night sky use.

Published by FlyTrapMan

I have no idea what I'm doing.

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