Beginners guide to macro photography.

 

Just landed

Just landed, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100mm Macro IS USM, ISO 800, 1/80s, f/9.

 

What is macro photography? Taking images of a small subjects, comparable to the camera sensor size is called macro photography. Most common subjects are insects and flowers, however many common things may become an excellent subject. Macro photography is a very interesting and exciting area. You can reveal tiny details invisible by the naked eye and present a very unusual vision of common things. For example, an insect portrait enlarged to 1 meter size looks really impressive. Macro photography is a relatively affordable hobby, it is possible to get stunning close-up images even with a compact camera. To achieve very good results you need some specialized equipment like dedicated macro lenses, but it is not as expensive as supertelephoto lenses for serious wildlife photography.

Macro photography has some unique aspects, that are not common for other types of photography. Most important are:

- razor blade thin, depth of field, usually less than a millimeter;

- camera shake and movement is magnified and similar to very long telephoto lens, the rule of 1/(focal length) shutter speed doesn't work at high magnification;

- amount of light that reaches camera sensor decreases, as you are getting closer.

 

Butterly close-up portrait

Butterfly close up portrait, Canon 300D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM, ISO 100, 1/250s, f/14.

 

The aperture displayed by the camera assumes that the focus is set to infinity. The actual or effective aperture becomes darker at closer focusing distances (the closer you are to the subject the greater magnification you have). This does not cause any problems during shooting at normal distances, but when you approach magnification ratios of 1:4, that means that your subjects size is 4 times bigger than its image on the camera sensor size, the amount of light that reaches camera sensor decreases to a noticeable value. This can be proved by focusing on the same subject from various distances, and watching the exposure time changing. The change in the effective f-number should not be ignored in close up photography. You shouldn't worry about it too much, as camera exposure automatics with TTL metering is correct, but it is vital for understanding and if you prefer manual exposure control for whatever reason. To calculate effective apertures one can use this approximated formula:

Effective Aperture = (Lens Aperture Setting) X (1 + Magnification)

Canon, Sony (Minolta) and Nikon cameras handles apperture settings in different ways. Canon and Sony cameras operates with the aperture setting, that means that it sets and show physical aperture opening, and it doesn't change as you focus closer. Nikon cameras operates with the effective aperture. It is important to be aware of this facts, as it affects DoF and exposure calculations.

Macro photography demands for a lot of light. When you work in a true macro range, the DOF is very thin, it may be hair thin. So to get reasonable part of your subject in focus you will need to use small apertures from f/8 to f/16 or even f/22. However at apertures smaller than f/14 diffraction effects may be visible. This will make your images look soft. I try to avoid shooting macro at apertures less than f/16, and prefer to chose focusing more carefully to put emphasis on the most interesting part of the image. Some people like to have the entire macro subject in focus. This can be achieved by special shooting technique, called focus stacking. It is possible with static subjects only, for example some objects or sleeping insects. The idea is simple, you take several pictures with a slight focus adjustment, remember both camera and subject shouldn't move! Than you can use this series of images with thin DOF to combine a single image with great DOF using special focus stacking software, or, if you have enough patience, you can do it in your image editor manually by masking parts of the image layers and blending them.

White spider

White spider, Canon 300D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM, ISO 100, 1/250s, f/14.

 

There are two approaches for macro photography. Classic is shooting from a tripod with natural light. This will allow you to get perfectly looking shots of insects with very beautiful lighting. Artificial lighting will never lit your subject as good as natural daylight. You need a sturdy tripod to keep a camera steady. Use of macro focusing rails is highly recommended for accurate composition and focusing. The downside of this approach is that your subjects are usually sitting still, and there is no action or even motion in the images.

I prefer shooting insects that moves. Unfortunately you have to do it either in the middle of a day to have plenty of light or use additional artificial lighting. If you use flash it will solve some problems but it will introduce new ones. You will have plenty of light and as the flash impulse is very short you can freeze subjects motion and almost completely solve the problem of camera shake. But if you use bare flash it will give you harsh lighting and backgrounds will turn very dark, may be even black. I recommend that you use reflectors and softboxes to enhance lighting. The easiest way is to make one yourself from a white paper. I'll describe how to do it in details in another article.

Spider packing prey

Spider packing prey, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100mm Macro IS USM, ISO 800, 1/80s, f/9.

 

You can use general purpose flash unit like Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for macro photography. It is very easy and will give reasonably good results. Just attach a reflector to it and go shooting. Canon offers two dedicated macro flash units. Ring type Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX Flash gives uniform light, that evenly lits your subject, it shows tiny details, but your subject will appear relatively flat. Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash is very flexible dual headed unit with a mounting ring. Ring mount attaches to the lens. You can adjust each flash head intensity, tilt them, and position anywhere on a ring mount independently. You can even detach a flash head form the mount ring and put it anywhere you like. For general macro photography, at magnifications about 1:4 to 1:2 it produces lighting that is harsh to my taste, and I believe that you definitely need some small softboxes for the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash heads to achieve pleasantly looking lighting. When you go in 1:1 magnification range and beyond, than the size of light emitting element of the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash becomes comparable to a subject and it gives lighting of a good quality.

Lucky hunt

Dragonfly lucky hunt, Canon 300D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM, ISO 100, 1/250s, f/14.

 

There are many macro lenses on the market, may be too many to make an easy choice. Nowadays almost nobody makes macro lenses that are really bad, but all of them have some issues that may influence field performance.

Macro lenses differ by focal length and working distance. They range from 50mm to 200mm. Short focal length macro lenses are good for object photography, but for insect macro photography I prefer long focal lengths. In general the longer - the better. With long lens you will have more working distance, and it will be less sensitive to distracting backgrounds. However if you shoot handheld and with natural light long focal length macro lens may be difficult to handhold. In macro photography, when you get really close, camera movements are very noticeable. Any camera shake or movement is magnified, similar to shooting with a long telephoto lens. With a hair thin DOF any movement along lens axis will result in getting focus in a slightly different place than desired. So it is very important to hold you camera very steady, as a very tiny movement may ruin a macro shot.

For insect photography I can recommend getting 100mm macro lenses for handhold shooting. For serious work from tripod it is better to get something in 150mm - 200mm range.

Hoverfly in flight

Hoverfly in flight, Canon 40D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM, ISO 400, 1/250s, f/8.

 

Focusing in macro photography is not the same as when shooting at normal distances. Almost all macro lenses change their focal length when focusing in macro range. Some macro lenses have internal focusing and doesn't change size while focusing. Lenses, that don't feature internal focusing extend in size and decrease working distance, as you focus on something closer. So when you use lens focusing mechanism, your composition changes and, if the lens doesn't have internal focusing, working distance also changes. If you use AF for macro photography, and when you shoot something very small, especially the one that can be frightened easily and will fly away it may be a factor that will influence whether you get a shot or not. So if you plan to shoot with AF lenses with internal focus are preferred. For more consistent results I suggest slightly different shooting technique. Just focus it for desired magnification and move camera back and forward slightly, to get your subject in focus. If you don't have special macro focusing rails for your tripod head, this can be a real pain to shoot, however if you have, than the lack of internal focusing and image frame size variations are not an issue any more. I must say, that you will need macro focusing rails for serious macro work, they really makes it many times easier, whatever lens you use.

Grasshopper in grass

Grasshopper in grass, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100mm Macro IS USM, ISO 200, 1/160s, f/8.

 

If 1:1 magnification is not enough for you, there are several ways to increase it. You can use a 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter like Canon EF 1.4x III Extender or Canon EF 2x III Extender, third party less expensive teleconverters are available from Kenko, Sigma and other manufacturers. Teleconverter will increase you maximum magnification ratio according to its multiplier. So 1.4x teleconverter will give you 1.4 times magnification and 2.0x magnifies it 2 times. The big plus in using teleconverter is that it changes working distance by its own size only. But you will not get it for free. You will lose light accordinly to the added magnification, so 2x extender will make you f/2.8 lens into f/5.6 lens. Teleconverters usually degrade image quality, as they magnifies all optical flaws of the lenses too. Extension tubes (12mm, 24mm, 25mm and 36mm are available) or close up filter like Canon 250D Close-up Lens or Canon 500D Close-up Lens can also increase maximum magnification of your lens beyond 1:1 ratio. Extension tubes and close-up filters don't allow the lens to focus at infinity, so with these methods you will be limited to macro range only. All 3 described methods will severely affect autofocus performance and darkens viewfinder. So shooting will be slightly more difficult than it was with bare lens.

Fly on burdock

Fly on burdock, Canon 40D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM, ISO 400, 1/200s, f/8.

 

If you are experienced macro shooter and want to further increase you horizons, have a look at unique Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro lens. It may be called a super macro lens, most true macro lenses ends at 1:1 magnification. With this one it only starts here. Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro cannot take normal photographs, but it rules in macro and extreme macro range. Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro allows you to take macro shots with magnification from 1x to 5x. 5x magnification is really impressive, just imagine that a grain of rice fills entire frame area! However this lens is not for everyone, it is really difficult to master. It is manual focus, and when you shoot at maximum magnification it becomes very long and your viewfinder will look very dark, and you will need a lot of light to focus and make a shot. DoF is very thin, much thinner than it is with conventional 1:1 macro lens, it will be only fractions of a millimeter. Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro is a real challenge to shoot with. However if you dare to walk a very long learning path, resulting images may look really stunning. If you've never shot macro before I don't recommend Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro lens as your first macro lens. At first results will be disappointing and you will need patience, and a lot of it, to learn using it. Optically and mechanically Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro is excellent. I definitely recommend it for experienced macro photographers, who want to push their creativity to a new level.

Butterfly eye

Butterfly eye close up. Canon 40D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM + Canon 250D, ISO 400, 1/200s, f/8.

 

Macro lenses comparison table and short buyers guide:

Rebates awailable for a number of lenses!

Model - Comments, pros, cons Weight Dimensions Min. focusing distance Working distance Filter Price

Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens

+ relatively inexpensive

- 1:2 Max magnification, short working distance, slow AF

280g 68 x 63mm 230mm   52mm

$254 at Amazon

$265 at Adorama

$254 at B&H

Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens

+ affordable, good IQ

- short working distance, slow AF

315g 72 x 64mm 189mm 60mm 55mm

$369 at Amazon

$369 at Adorama

$369 at B&H

Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 50mm f/2 Lens

+ excellent sharpness and microcontrast, perfect for product shots, very precise focusing mechanism

- 1:2 Max magnification, short working distance, no AF

530g 72 x 88mm 240mm   67mm

$1283 at Amazon

$1283 at Adorama

$1283 at B&H

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

+ internal focusing, compact, very good IQ and fast AF, excellent value

- APS-C only, short working distance

335g 73 x 70mm 200mm 90mm 52mm

$424 at Amazon

$396 at Adorama

$386 at B&H

Tamron 60mm f/2.0 Di II Macro Lens

+ internal focusing, compact, very good IQ, 2.0 aperture, excellent value

- APS-C only, noisy AF

400g 73x80mm 230mm 100mm 55mm

$373 at Amazon

$373 at Adorama

$373 at B&H

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro Lens

+ Unique lens, 1x-5x magnification, excellent image and build quality.

- not for beginners

730g 81 x 98mm     58mm

$886 at Amazon

$931 at Adorama

$886 at B&H

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

+ excellent optically, excellent value

- very short working distance, slow AF

525g 76x95mm 257mm 65mm 62mm

$499 at Amazon

$499 at Adorama

$499 at B&H

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens

+ excellent value, very good IQ

- slow AF, short working distance

405g 72 x 97mm 290mm 99mm 55mm

$399 at Amazon

$399 at Adorama

$399 at B&H

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro

+ very good build and IQ, excellent value.

- some bokeh fringing, short working distance

540g 73x95mm 300mm 110mm 55mm

$489 at Amazon

$489 at Adorama

$489 at B&H

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens

+ internal focusing, good AF and IQ, excellent value

600g 79 x 119mm 310mm 150mm 58mm

$509 at Amazon

$520 at Adorama

$499 at B&H

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

+ internal focusing, very good AF and IQ, Image stabilization, weather sealing.

- some bokeh fringing.

625g 78 x 123mm 300mm 146mm 67mm

$929 at Amazon

$905 at Adorama

$886 at B&H

Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2 Lens

+ excellent bokeh, sharpness and microcontrast, probably the sharpest macro lens wide open, very good for portraits, very precise focusing mechanism

- 1:2 Max magnification, some CA and bokeh fringing, MF, expensive

680g 76x113mm 440mm   67mm

$1843 at Amazon

$1834 at Adorama

$1843 at B&H

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens

+ good value

- discontinued, slow AF, short working distance

450g 74 x 95mm 320mm 120mm 58mm  

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens

+ very good IQ, APO, Image stabilization.

- relatively slow AF, relatively expensive

726g 79 x 127mm 310mm 142mm 62mm

$969 at Amazon

$849 at Adorama

$849 at B&H

Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 125mm f/2.5 SL

+ outstanding optically, excellent bokeh, sharpness and microcontrast, true APO lens, very good for portraits, very precise focusing mechanism

- discontinued, rare, price

680g 76 x 89mm 390mm 180mm 58mm  

Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens

+ internal focusing, good AF and IQ, APO, excellent value

- discontinued

895g 80 x 137mm 380mm 194mm 72mm  

Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM APO Macro OS

+ internal focusing, good AF and excellent IQ, APO, Image stabilization, excellent value

- bokeh not perfect, heavy

1150g 80x150mm 380mm 180mm 72mm

$1099 at Amazon

$1099 at Adorama

$1099 at B&H

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens

+ internal focusing, excellent build and image quality, precise focusing mechanism, very long working distance

- slow AF, tripod highly recommended

1090g 83 x 187mm 480mm 240mm 72mm

$1399 at Amazon

$1409 at Adorama

$1330 at B&H

Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Di Macro Lens

+ internal focusing, excellent image quality, longest working distance, affordable, excellent value

- slow and hunting AF, tripod highly recommended

920g 85 x 166mm 470mm 250mm 72mm

$640 at Amazon

$640 at Adorama

$640 at B&H

 

Tropical butterfly

Butterfly close up portrait, Canon 300D, Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro USM, ISO 100, 1/250s, f/14.

Thanks for reading!

 

  Tweet Stumble it!
This Del.icio.us

Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com