Recommended Equipment for Macro Photography

Although it can be tough to consider good macro photos, this doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact , a full kit of macro photography necessities can cost less than $100. This article covers the recommended equipment for taking great macro photos, from great values to high-end equipment.

Table of Contents

Camera Recommendations for Macro Photography

You don’t require a top-of-the-line DSLR or mirrorless camera in order to get great macro photos. It’s still vital that you get a camera with compatible lenses, but beyond that will, the differences between cameras aren’t as pronounced as they are usually in other genres of pictures.

The reason is twofold. First, for most macro photography , you’ll be at narrow apertures like f/11 or f/16 in order to get enough depth of field . Those apertures have enough diffraction   that your sharpness is already restricted no matter what lens or digital camera you use. The differences between, say, a 24 megapixel camera and a 45 megapixel camera are much smaller sized at these apertures.

The other reason is that crop sensors work great for macro photography, at least should you be going for extreme closeups. The 36 megapixel full-frame camera and a 16 megapixel APS-C camera have about the same -pixel density, which means they have about the same capability to resolve close details. In other words, it’s similar to the situation for wildlife photography; a lot of wildlife photographers prefer a twenty-four megapixel crop-sensor camera over a 24-megapixel full-frame camera in order to get a higher pixel density.

I’m not saying a crop sensor is better for macro photography than the usual full-frame sensor, but the differences are less pronounced within other genres like portraiture. Same goes for a lower-resolution sensor. Whatever camera you already have is almost certainly enough.

Macro photography focusing
NIKON D7000 + 105mm f/2. almost eight @ 105mm, ISO 1250, 1/250, f/22. 0

Macro Lens Considerations

Rather than the camera, the most important piece of equipment for macro photography is the lens. Here are the things I recommend thinking about when deciding on a macro photography lens.

First, obtain a lens with a high maximum magnification. Some lenses (especially cheap zooms) claim to become “macro” when they only go to 1: 3 or 1: 2 magnification. Look for a zoom lens that can reach 1: one magnification or more. (If you are not familiar with what this means, check out the article on magnification . )

Second, prioritize lenses with a good working distance. Functioning distance is how much space you have between the front of the lens and your macro picture taking subject. Many macro lens only have a few inches or centimeters between your lens as well as your subject. This makes it easy in order to block natural light or frighten away your subject. Lens with a longer focal size almost always have more working range. That’s why I recommend the 90mm lens or longer.

Third, choose between a manual concentrate versus autofocus lens. Autofocus lenses are still nice if you are planning to use the lens just for non-macro work (or more general closeup photos of bigger subjects like lizards). But at higher magnifications, autofocus often results in fewer keepers than manual focus. You can read more about the focusing technique I recommend in this article: how to focus in macro photography .

Fourth, figure out when the lens you’re considering has electronic contacts or not. Some third-party macro lenses (such those from Venus Optics) are totally mechanical. This implies you cannot change aperture with the command dial on your digital camera – only the aperture band on the lens. It also means you don’t get full EXIF data (i. electronic., your aperture will be recorded as f/0. 0 within the image’s metadata). And, most of all, it means that the image within your viewfinder or live look at will be very dim when using apertures like f/11, f/16, or f/22. Given that all those are common apertures for macro photography, this can be a significant problem, especially on a DSLR rather than mirrorless camera. It’s like holding down the depth of field preview button constantly. It makes manual focusing a lot more difficult.

Fifth, think about the various incidental features of the lens. Does it have picture stabilization or not? (Though picture stabilization usually doesn’t work effectively at high magnifications anyway. ) How heavy will be the lens? Is it internal focus, or does the barrel extend as you focus nearer? How well does the lens perform in terms of sharpness, bokeh, chromatic aberration, as well as other image quality features? All of these things are important, although not often as much as the other four considerations.

Now let’s take a look at the different classes of macro lenses available.

Damselfly Close-Up Photo
NIKON Z7 + IRIX 150mm f/2. 6 @ 150mm, ISO 640, 1/400, f/11. 0

How to Get 1: 1 Magnification – Different Types of Macro Lenses

There are many techniques for getting 1: 1 magnification within macro photography. While the most obvious solution is to use a dedicated macro lens, you could also:

  • Use extension tubes or bellows on a broad or normal lens
  • Reverse a wide or normal lens
  • Reverse a wide or regular lens onto the filtration system threads of a telephoto
  • Use teleconverters on the lens that already offers good close-up capabilities
  • Use a macro filtration system with a strong enough diopter strength to reach 1: 1

Extension pipes have the fewest drawbacks of such methods, with no image quality penalty thanks to the lack of glass elements. They’re also over the cheaper side (even in case you spend extra to get a single with electronic contacts) and really should work with almost any lenses you might have. The other methods still have their place, but unless you have something against extension pipes, that’s where I’d start.

This leaves four tiers of tips for your macro photography lens:

one Extension Tubes

Pros:

  • Inexpensive. About 20 dollars for a set without electronic contacts, $80 with digital contacts (allowing autofocus, auto aperture control, and EXIF data)
  • Good image high quality. No glass elements means no loss in clarity. Your photos will have exactly the same image quality as the lens usually does at its closest focusing distance

Cons:

  • Loss of infinity focus. When an extension tube is connected, you lose the ability to focus within the distance.
  • Possibly small working distance. The wider-angle the lens you’re adapting, the easier it is to get high magnification with extension tubes, but also the less working distance you’ll have (i. e., the distance between the front side of the lens and your subject).
  • Build quality problems when stacking extension tubes. If you need more than two or three pipes, your setup can get quite wobbly.

Extension Tubes

2 . Old Macro Zoom lens

Pros:

  • Fairly cheap. Great 1: 1 macro lenses can sell for $200, $150, or even less depending on what kind you pick. Old, manual focus macro lenses are the best deal.
  • Good picture quality. These lenses are created for macro photography, and even the oldest ones nevertheless hold up great today (especially at common macro pictures apertures like f/11 or even f/16).
  • Great working distance. The longer the focal length, the greater working distance you’ll get.

Cons:

  • Usually manual focus only. For macro digital photography, manual focus isn’t normally an issue, but it’s annoying if you want the lens in order to double as a general-purpose telephoto.
  • Expensive in the event that autofocus. If you buy a macro lens that has autofocus yet is still one or two generations old, you can expect to pay more in the range of $300.
Nikon AI-S Macro Lens
NIKON D800E + 55mm AI-S Macro Lens @ ISO 100, 1/320

several. Modern Third-Party Macro Zoom lens

Pros

  • Usually cheaper than the usual Nikon/Canon/Sony/etc. macro lens.
  • Sometimes has unique features. For example , the Morgenstern Optics 100mm f/2. eight macro lens goes to 2× magnification rather than 1: one
  • Good working distance and image high quality.

Cons

  • Potential compatibility problems in the future. For example , the Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2. 7 PRO macro lens has worked perfectly on most of Nikon’s DSLRs for years, but it does not autofocus on the Nikon Unces mirrorless cameras.
  • Price savings may not be large compared to first-part lenses. Numerous photographers are willing to spend an additional $100 or $200 to get a Nikon/Canon/Sony/etc. lens rather than a Tokina/Sigma/Tamron/etc. lens. The reasons could be anything at all from resell value to better features on the first-party lens (such as faster autofocus).
Ant Walking on Stem of Grass Macro Photo
NIKON Z7 + Sigma 105mm f/2. 8 @ INTERNATIONALE ORGANISATION FÜR STANDARDISIERUNG 450, 1/800, f/11. 0

4. Modern First-Party Macro Lens

Pros

  • Good image quality, compatibility, resell worth, and working distance. These types of lenses are usually the top-of-the-line options for macro photography.

Negatives

  • Usually the most expensive of the options here.
  • Might not have the specifications you need (such as greater than 100mm or greater than 1: 1 magnification).
Cricket Macro
NIKON D800E + Nikon 105mm f/2. 8 VR @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/4000, f/3. 2

Lenses Overview

Disregarding price, the best lenses intended for macro photography tend to be the particular newest-generation first-party macro lens from Nikon, Canon, Sony, and other camera companies by themselves. Or, for some photographers, the best lenses (again ignoring price) may be specialized third-party lenses that have unique features like a longer focal length or more magnification.

However , macro lenses like this consistently cost $600-1000. Extension tubes have many of the same benefits, including great image quality, yet cost orders associated with magnitude less. So , the recommendation for first-time macro photographers is to save the money and start with a set of extension tubes. I highly recommend obtaining a set with electronic connections. These through Vello are a good option, as are these from Kenko .

Bee Macro Photo
NIKON Z7 + IRIX 150mm f/2. 8 @ 150mm, INTERNATIONALE ORGANISATION FÜR STANDARDISIERUNG 560, 1/400, f/6. 3 or more

Recommended Lighting Equipment

Much of macro photography is done with artificial light, especially flashes. It is simply the best way to get sufficient light on your subject when shooting at apertures such as f/16 and f/22. Even when you’re shooting from a tripod, so long as your subject is usually moving in the breeze, a flash is helpful for freezing motion. (If you only perform macro photography of stationary subjects, you can get by with constant lights instead, but that’s not the norm, so I’ll be focusing on sensations below. )

Here are my tiers of lighting recommendations for macro digital photography:

1 ) Ring Light

Not recommended for photos! Ring lights are usually not nearly bright enough to work nicely for macro photography, except for filling in shadows on your issue. A typical flash is countless times brighter. Don’t be fooled by the flash mode upon some ring lights, either; all it does is set the sunshine to maximum brightness to get a second or so. It’s nevertheless nowhere near as brilliant as a flash. (Ring lamps can be expensive, too. )

2 . Manual (non-TTL) Flash Mind

An excellent value option. There are tons of $50 manual flashes   that are far brighter than any kind of ring light. If you don’t brain buying used, you can find a few old, manual flashes intended for $10 on eBay. Use it the hotshoe of your camera, figure out a good flash energy, set up a diffuser in the front of your lens, and your light will look great.

3. TTL Flash Head

You can follow the same steps as above having an automatic (TTL) flash for some time more flexibility in macro photography, although a higher price . Not every macro subjects are equally reflective, and a TTL display can raise and reduced the flash power to make up. A downside with a TTL flash is that the pre-flash utilized to judge exposure scares away some types of fast bugs. In the fraction of a 2nd between the pre-flash and the adobe flash, the bug could take a flight away, and your photo is going to be an empty frame!

4. Dual or even Multi-Flashes

While a single flash in your camera’s hotshoe can lead to some good light, you can sculpt the particular shadows more easily when using several flashes. You can find some crazy contraptions with multiple adobe flash heads, alongside more reasonable – though expensive – choices like the Nikon R1 system   or cheaper Bolt system . Once more, diffusion is critical if you want good light (and a bit trickier when the flash is so close to your subject).

5. Fast-Recycle Expensive

One of the biggest problems with a flash is definitely how long it takes to recharge. If you’re firing at full power, you may need to wait many seconds before the flash may fire again. Every macro photographer knows that time features the essence, and some topics may only stay in the perfect spot for a few moments before moving on. The cheap solution is to utilize a higher ISO and a reduced flash power. The costly solution is to power your flash with an external battery pack like the one from Bolt , Canon , or Quantum so the flash recycles more quickly, and you can fire several frames per second with flash. Beware of melting your flash if you go too far.

The Importance of Diffusers

No matter which of the flash options you choose, it’s critical to diffuse your own flash to soften the light. You can make your own diffuser away from plastic and duct mp3, which gives you tons of customizability, or get one for $9 , which looks more respectable yet is kind of one-size-fits-all.

You can see the difference beneath between a flash with out and with a diffuser:

Regular Flash vs Diffused Flash Comparison

Recommended Lighting Summary

The best value meant for lighting your macro photos, by far, is to get a cheap manual flash and put a diffuser around the front of your lens. Alternatively, if you curently have a TTL flash to get portrait or event pictures, you can just co-opt it without any issues for macro work. I only suggest jumping up to a multi-flash setup or using an external battery power if you don’t mind spending much more money on marginal improvements.

You can read a lot more in detail about lighting macro photos in our full guide here .

Close-up Photo of Dragonfly on Plant
NIKON Z7 + Laowa 100mm f/2. 8 Macro @ ISO 100, 1/800, f/2. 6.
At longer concentrating distances like this (which does not technically qualify as macro, but still as a close-up), natural lighting is much easier to use. You don’t have to deal with apertures like f/16 in order to get enough depth of field, and you’re not blocking much light.

Some other Useful Accessories

The equipment above is usually everything that many macro photographers will ever need. Nevertheless , if you go into more specific areas of macro photography, a few other equipment and accessories can also be helpful. Here’s a brief listing.

Tripod

It’s probably no surprise that a tripod can be helpful for macro pictures. If you photograph a lot of nonmoving subjects (or those that only move in the breeze, such as flowers), a tripod is essential. It also allows you to use natural light more easily, rather than relying on the flash. Of all the “other helpful accessories” I’m listing right here, a tripod is the only one I regularly use intended for my personal macro photography.

Manual focus from a tripod macro
NIKON D7000 + 105mm f/2. 8 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1 ) 3 seconds, f/5. 6

Macro Rails

If you photograph plenty of static subjects, especially in the studio, you should consider getting a set of macro rails. These let you focus and change composition by shifting your camera in really small increments, as opposed to spinning the particular focusing ring on your zoom lens. Macro rails are especially helpful if you want to do focus stacking for macro photography. As well as some automated focus stacking rails   that can make the process smoother for photographers who have routinely shoot 100+ image stacks and don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars.

Focusing rail macro
Focusing rail

Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker

Along similar outlines, if you do a lot of focus putting for your macro work, the tools in Photoshop and other general-purpose photography software may not be sufficient. Dedicated software like Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker are meant for this type of digital photography, including with some tools to minimize errors when your subject moves during the stacking process.

Studio Products

Studio-based macro photography gives you maximum control over how your photos look. If you prefer it rather than photographing outdoors, you can add things like studio lighting, adobe flash gels / filters, and backdrops to the list of useful equipment.

Water droplets on a CD macro photo
NIKON Z 7 + 105mm f/2. 8 @ 105mm, ISO 64, 3 secs, f/4. 8

Specialized Gear

In order to specialize even further, there are dedicated accessories for all sorts of macro photography sub-genres. Look into microscopes, timelapse gear, camera activates, and whatever else suits your specialty. Some photographers spend their entire photography profession taking pictures of water tiny droplets falling in midair, along with amazing results . Things like this usually require specialized gear, though.

Bottom line

I hope this tour of common macro photography gear gave you a good idea of where to start. The amazing thing about macro photography is that you can take world-class photos with a minimal purchase in extra gear – say, your existing digital camera and kit lens, an $80 extension tube fixed, a $15 manual display, and a homemade diffuser. It is one of the most accessible genres associated with photography out there.

That said, there are plenty of traps you can fall into if you’re not careful. Instead of the setup mentioned above, maybe you decide to go with the reverse-lens technique and a ring lighting. You’d end up with a dark viewfinder, lots of chromatic incohérence, a small working distance, plus excessively high ISOs.

So , pay attention to the pros and cons detailed throughout this article, and remember to have fun! Macro photography is not always easy, but when you get a good photo, it’s hugely gratifying.

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