The world of macro photography can open your eyes to a variety of new subject matter, creativity, and give you something to do if you’re stuck at home. Getting into macro photography can be a bit daunting at first. Do you need a specialized macro lens? Focusing rail? Ring Light? The answer will be different for everybody. Today we will be covering the basics of Macro Photography, the available gear, and some unique tools available as well!
What is a macro lens?
In general terms, a macro lens is a dedicated lens that is optically designed to photograph subjects at extremely close distances with high quality and detail. A “true macro” lens will let you photograph subjects at a 1:1 magnification ratio. There are also lenses that will let you do extreme macro, with magnification ratios of up to 5:1, or more.
Most if not all true macro lenses will be prime lenses, though there are some “macro zoom” lenses available from most camera/lens makers that will give you some macro abilities, generally allowing you to get a bit closer to a subject than a zoom lens without a macro label on it.
How to get into Macro Photography
Macro LensesEvery camera on the market has a variety of different macro lenses available for them. Typically macro lenses are in the same general focal range, even if they’re from different manufacturers.
- 35-70mm (FX Equivalent) - great for general purpose macro work, conditions where you can get close to a subject (like flowers), and for including some of the surrounding scene.
- 90-120mm (FX Equivalent) - typically the most popular focal lengths for macro lenses. Tamron and Sony have a 90mm macro, Canon has two 100mm macro’s, Fuji has a 60 and 80mm macro, and Sigma and Nikon make a 105mm macro. These are great for macro work where you need to keep some distance between yourself and your subject - but is also a popular choice for wedding photographers as they double as great portrait lenses!
- 150mm+ (FX Equivalent) - less popular, but a very good choice for small insects that you cannot get close to without scaring away.
- Optical Stabilization - if you’re not shooting with a mirrorless camera that has IBIS, and plan on hand holding when taking macro photographs, consideri looking for lenses that have image stabilization built in.
There are also some specialty macro lenses on the market that open the door to a whole new world of creativity.
- Canon’s MP-E 65mm f/2.8 Macro is a 1X-5X Macro lens that is fully manual
- Laowa - a fairly new brand that has released some high quality, unique, fully manual lenses for multiple mounts has a host of macro lenses.
- Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Macro is essentially the only super wide 1:1 macro lens on the market, and allows you to photograph environmental macro photographs, as well as landscapes without having to change lenses!
- Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Macro is a compact and versatile macro lens that will focus as close at 1.6” away from the front of the lens!
- Laowa 60mm f/2.8 2X Ultra-Macro is the world's first 2:1 macro lens that lets you achieve infinity focus, making this a great lens to photograph changing scenes without having to use macro tubes, and can be used for portraits as well.
- Laowa 24mm f/14 2X Macro “Probe” gives you a wide angle “bug eye” perspective. Not only is this a great lens for photography, but cinematographers have loved this lens as well.
Two budget friendly options for people just dipping their toes into macro work are reverse rings and macro extension tubes.
- Reverse Rings screw into the filter thread of your lens and then mount to the camera, essentially flipping your lens, and turning it into a macro lens. These rings are quite cheap, but the downside is that it will only work with certain lenses that are of the same filter thread, so you may need multiple rings. With these you do not get autofocus, or any kind of readout to your camera. They do take some practice as you will have to physically move in/out to get your subject in focus.
- Macro Extension tubes come in a variety of sizes, and many now include autofocus. These hollow tubes make the minimum focusing distance smaller/closer by putting the lens further away from the sensor. There are trade-offs with these as well. The first being that you lose light so you will have to increase your ISO, and the second is that you cannot focus to infinity. Extension tubes typically come in a set of 2 or 3 in different lengths allowing you to use them individually, or stacked. Keep in mind though that if you stack too many on some lenses, the minimum focusing distance of a lens will be INSIDE the lens, and you won’t be able to focus at all.
Key Accessories for Macro Photography
- Macro Rails - these allow you to precisely adjust the camera to achieve the perfect focus when shooting close focus macro work. There’s nothing worse than trying to move your tripod a tiny bit, then losing focus entirely!
- Macro Lights - these usually come in two styles - a ring that attaches to the front of your lens to create an even light on your subject, and one that has 2 “alien tentacles” with a light on each one and allows you to individually adjust where the light is coming from.
- Constant Lights are also a great choice for macro work. LED panels, video lights, LumeCube/LitraTorch, etc. They provide a good amount of light output and allow you to adjust the light depending on your subject. These will be more useful in studio/indoor situations.
- Wired/Wireless shutter release - when shooting macro, even the slightest shake will ruin your photo - and that includes pushing your shutter button. Using your camera's self-time can work, but it can also lead to missed opportunities.
- Light Boxes - if you plan on doing macro photography inside your home, this is a great tool that gives you a clean backdrop, and nice, even light. Plus it’s great for product photography!
Macro photography can be frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can become an addition. This is a great subject to try out when you’re stuck at home, if the weather is bad, or if you want unique photos! You can take macro photographs of almost anything! Fabric details in clothing/blankets, intricate circuitry of electronics, the fine details of food and plants, and more! There is no limit to the level of creativity you can achieve.
Our Top Choices for Macro Lenses:
- Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS Macro for Nikon/Canon (and Sony w/ MC-11) - a steal at $469!
- Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC Macro for Nikon/Canon (and Sony w/ MC-11) - one of the newer/updated macros on the market.
- Sony 90mm f/2.8 OSS Macro - one of the sharpes E-Mount lenses on the market!
- Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro - a 120mm FX equivalent bargain at under $400.
- Fuji 80mm f/2.8 OIS Macro - a razor sharp macro lens for the Fuji system
Our Top Macro Accessories:
- ProMaster MR1 Macro Focusing Rail - let’s you precisely adjust your camera position for under $100.
- ProMaster RL100 LED Macro Ring Light - super bright LED’s and will mount to lenses between 49mm-77mm filter threads.
- ProMaster Macro Extension Tubes - available for Nikon F/Z. Canon EF/RF, Sony E, Fuji, and m4/3 - with autofocus!
- Phottix Aion Wireless Remote Shutter Release
- Sirui 3T-15 Tabletop Tripod - great for low angle or tabletop macro photography
Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Shift Lens:
Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 OIS Macro:
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 ART :