Getting Close and Personal with Macro Photography

True Macro Photography is one times
magnification and higher

A lesser amount would be described as "close-ups" and not "macro". One x magnification or enlargement to life-size , is typically written out as 1.1. Life-size meaning your subject appears identical in size on film or image sensor as it actually does in actual life. So if a fly happens to be 15mm long, therefore the fly's size on the photo will also appear 15mm long. 35mm film being 24mm x 36mm in size: ✓

Schnepfenfliege Rhagio scolopaceus
Schnepfenfliege Rhagio scolopaceus (Snipe Fly)

Macro photography is a form of close-up photography. The conventional definition is that an image cast upon a "film plane" (image sensor or film) is pretty much identical in size to the subject. For example, with 35mm film, the lens is most often optimized for sharp focus on a diminutive area close to the film frame size. A majority of 35mm macro lenses attain a minimum of 1:2, in other words, the image is 1/2 of the actual size of the subject being photographed. A majority of the 35mm macro lens ratios are 1:1, which means the image found on the sensor is identical in size to the object that is photographed. One more important characteristic is that lenses engineered for macro photography are typically their sharpest at the macro focus ranges and not as sharp at their other focus ranges.

Recently, the macro term has been used with marketing material meaning having the capacity to focus in on a subject near enough that when a typical 6◊4 inch print is created, the image turns out life-size or lbigger. This only commands a magnification ratio around 1:4, a ratio more easily attained by lens makers.

There are three distinct lens types that can be used for shooting close up photography, although with macro, you get pretty much what you paid for it:

Macro Lenses with Fixed Focal Lengths:
A macro lens with a fixed focus length (Nikon labels them as micro) is a better choice, also the most expensive. After using a Nikkor 105mm Micro lens and I have to say when shoot with a lens this good, itís difficult to return to the zoom macro types, However Iíve used macro zooms and the results I obtain for flowers and other garden objjects turned out great, although I can put up with a little softness with those. Perhaps you canít.

Zoom Macro lens:
Most expedient Many zooms have a built-in macro option. Making one less lens to carry inside your camera bag. Having the convenience of a zoom lens, along with the lower price tag, may outweigh your requirement for a more costly macro lens with a set focal length. Although in my encounters, the focusing plummets somewhat quickly for macro zooms. If you prefer the look of shallow field depth flower photos with soft edges, then it's probably ok with you. But the question was: what is the best macro lens for sharp images, then this maybe this is not ok. However if youíre coming from a DSLR consumer grade kit lens, then a zoom macro might appear fantastic to you.

Macro Equipment

Canon 60mm macro lens
Canon 60mm macro lens

Extension tubes for SLRs

Bellows attached to an SLR and reversed lens
Bellows attached to an SLR and reversed lens

Digital Concepts Close-up set
typical close-up lens

The equipment for making a photo a required size includes:

  • A special-function lens labeled a macro lens, featuring a long barrel enabling close focusing. Nikon call it micro, while possibly might be scientifically more precise, but may be confusing, as it opposes the established convention. A macro lens could be optimized to deliver its optimal performance at 1:1.magnification. Some macro lenses, like the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8, which can accomplish magnification as high as to 5:1 macro, allowing snowflakes, the configuration of small insect's eyes, and other minuscule although detailed objects to be photographed. Although, "typical" (1:1) macro lens ratios are much more common. Different classes of macro lenses exist, depending upon their focal length:
    • 50Ė60mm range Most often used for product photography and small objects
    • 90Ė105mm range the typical focal range used for insects, flowers, and small objects
    • 150Ė200mm range allows more working space ó commonly used for insects and other small animals
    • a few zooms offer a macro option, but I've yet to see one allowing a 1:1 magnification ratio
  • Installing an extension tube in between the lens and the body of the camera. There is no glass in a tube; its only function is to push the lens farther away from the sensor. The farther away the lens gets from the sensor, the nearer the focusing distance becomes (and the more the magnification) resulting in a darker the image. Various length tubes may be stacked, allowing for increased magnification levels while decreasing working distance at the same time. With tubes attached, your camera will no longer have the capacity to focus to infinity.
  • Use a bellows attachment between the lens and the camera body to extend the lens to film plane distance. Pretty much identical an extension tube, although adjustable.
  • Screwing a diopter close-up lens onto the camera's filter mount. Inexpensive screw-on or slip-on diopter allows close focusing at a very low cost. The quality can vary, while some double-element versions are excellent although numerous low-cost single element lenses create chromatic aberration and diminish sharpness of the images that result. This arrangement works best with cameras having fixed lenses, and most often used on bridge cameras. These lenses contain diopters upping the optical power to the lens, while diminishing the minimum focusing range, by letting the camera move nearer the subject.
  • Attaching a tele-converter between the lens and the camera body. A 1.4◊ or 2◊ extender produces a bigger image, and adding macro capacity. Similar to an extension tube, reduced lighting is going to reach the sensor, while increasing the exposure needed time. Although, the working distance stays identical as without a tele-converter.
  • Use a reversing ring to reverse the lens. A special adapter that attaches to a lens front using it's filter thread making it feasible to attach another lens in reverse. Excellent quality results with as much as 4x life-size magnification can be produced by using inexpensive, "standard" (not primarily made for macro) lenses. On cameras containing all-electronic interaction between the camera and the lens , like the Canon EOS, there are reversing rings which provide every camera function, which includes open aperture metering, can be employed. When combined with bellows or extension tubes a somewhat inexpensive but highly flexible macro system may be assembled.

    Installing a a lens of smaller focal length in reverse in the front end of a normal mounted lens by employing an low cost "macro coupler," which simply screws onto the filter threads of both fronts of the lenses to mechanically attach them. This technique allows almost all cameras to retain the full electronic communication functions with the lens that's mounted normally to use features like open-aperture metering. The Magnification ratio may be determined by dividing the normal mounted lens focal length by the reversed lens focal length (for example, when an 20mm lens is mounted in reverse on a 200mm lens the resulting magnification ratio is 10:1). Using automatic focusing is not advised as the additional weight of the lens mounted in reverse might damage the AF mechanism. Working distance is momentously reduced from the original lens.

    Field depth drastically diminished while focusing on close subjects, so a stop should be employed to assure sufficient filed depth. Either use a slower shutter speed or brilliant lighting for proper exposure; for all but the most intense natural lighting situations if a lengthy exposure is unadvisable, auxiliary illumination (like from a flash) might be necessary. To obtain even lighting of very close subjects, there are ring flashes which mount at the lens front. Excellent results may also be achieve by using a diffuser flash, which may be made up of inexpensive Styrofoam.

True macro lenses









Close-up filters

The close-up filter is a supplementary lens which screws to the filter threads of your mounted camera lens to provide for close-up focusing. Fundamentally, it reduces the focusing distance letting you to move in closer to a subject. Since the focal length is not increased there is no loss of light. The benefits are small size and low cost. Shortcomings are a reduction of optical quality. Particularly when the lens shot wide open, and along the edges. They may be used on zooms, however the smaller zooms function better. By adding convenience makes them an attractive and useful tool.

Similar to reading glasses, they're available in +1, +2 and +4 strengths. Also may be stacked to get a 1+2 = +3 magnification. They are most definitely not too sharp at the edges, difficult to focus, and most often create a Holga-ish outcome! If that's your type of thing, then they will be right for you.

Macro lenses may be also used with regular photography, not only close up photos. They form great portrait lenses, particularly the 100mm. Depending upon your image sensor size, fixed focal lenses might cost anywhere from $500 to $1,300. See the focal lengths and brands listed above, so you should do some research.

Extension tubes

Extension tubes expand the lens focal length, enlarging magnification. The longer the lens focal length the longer extension required to make a sizeable magnification difference. Using extension tubes results in loss of light. Most tubes, although not all of them, are meter coupled which lets your meter function as normal. You should look at your camera's manual to check for compatibility. Some tubes will result in losing autofocus, although they may not be all that important shooting macro photography. Kenko has a terrific 3 tube set which may be mounted individually or as a set while retaining AF if you use autofocus for macro shots) and retain the metering so you still keep regular ttl metering

Technical Matters

Macro lenses allow photographers to acquire tiny subjects
at extremely close ranges

Limited field depth is a significant factor in macro photography. This allows for essential critical focus on the most significant portion of the subject, due to elements being just a millimeter nearer or farther off the focal plane could become noticeably blurry. Because of this, using a microscope stage is very much suggested for exact focus with sizeable magnification like photographing skin cells. As an Alternative, additional images of the identical subject can be shot using slightly different focusing lengths and joined later using focused image editing software that can select the sharpest portions of each image, increasing field depth artificially. Digital compact cameras and small-image sensor bridge cameras encompass an attendant benefit in macro photography because to their inherently longer working distance. Given that depth of field seems to diminish with the lens actual focal length, not the focal length equivalent, certain bridge cameras can accomplish a magnification of a 420mm lens with the resulting greater field depth of a shorter length lens. Inexpensive, high-quality add-on close-up lenses may also be used to acquire the needed close focusing; they work identical to reading glasses. This outcome makes acquire high quality macro-images with relatively low cost equipment, because add-on close-up macro lenses are way less expensive than dedicated macro lenses.


The issue of sufficient and even lighting of your subject can be hard to fix. Some cameras have the ability focus so close on subjects that they encounter the front glass of the lens. It's not possible to position a light between an object and the camera which is that close, making excessive close-up photography improbable. A standard-focal-length macro (50mm on a 35mm camera) is able to focus so close to make lighting becomes impossible. To circumvent this issue, many photographers employ telephoto macro lenses, most often having focal lengths from around 100mm through 200mm. These are most popular as they allow enough distance to provide lighting in between the subject and the camera. Ring flashes, using flash tubes laid out around the lens front in a circle , is useful for lighting at close expanses. Ring lights have evolved, employing white LEDs to present a continuous source of light for macro-shooting. Flash diffusers fashioned by hand from white plastic or Styrofoam and then attached to the built-jn camera flash unit can also result amazingly good effect by softening and diffusing the light, eradicate specular reflections and imparting more even lighting.


If they are within your budget, get the macro lens with a fixed focal length. You will not be disappointed. First though do your research. I recommend that you test any lens you're considering buying. Hereís what to do Research several lenses you are looking at. Read their reviews in on the web or camera magazines Take your camera with you to your favorite photography store, mount the lens and shoot some pictures inside the store, or outdoors if you can persuade the salesperson to go outside with you. Even better, rent the lens for a few to really test it out Compare it with the lens you regularly use. View the images on your computer using 100%, or make use of a good loupe with a light table if you're shooting film. Weigh the image quality, compared with your photography budget and your requirements. While camera bodies continue to come down in price and go up in features, owning a quality collection of lenses will keep their value. A worthwhile investment!

Updated Review Oct 10, 2011


Macro Photography: Roy Toft uses the Tamron 60mm, 90mm & 180m lenses