I thought it was time to discuss one of the most popular forms of photography, MACRO. and with good reason. A very broad genre of photography, shooters enjoy capturing macro shots of leaves, flowers, and sluggish insects, all the while maintaining total control over lighting. If you are a nature lover, you can invest vast amounts of time searching for ideal situations be it flowers, bugs, or even a shiny penny left on the sidewalk. Plus, macro photography makes it possible to take great “nature” photographs without traveling far beyond your environs.
But there are some technical hurdles to cross. Physics interferes with macro photography in ways that are not as relevant in other areas of photography, but it’s important for you to understand if you’re going to properly capture macro images.
Macro photography has to do with the size that your subject is projected onto your camera’s sensor. If you have a one-inch subject, its projection at “life-size” would be one inch on the camera’s sensor. An object which fills one inch of the sensor will fill most of the resulting photo, since the sensors in typical DSLRs are no more than 1.5 inches long. When an object is projected at life-size onto the sensor, it is at “1:1 magnification”. If an object is projected at half of life-size (say, that one-inch object takes up just 1/2 inch of the sensor), it is at 1:2 magnification. With 1:10 magnification or smaller, you aren’t really shooting a macro photo anymore.
Figuring Out The Working Distance
Working distance is easy: it’s the distance between your sensor and your subject at the closest possible focus distance of your lens. The longer the working distance, the easier it is to stay away from your subject (and if that subject is skittish or dangerous, a large working distance is fairly useful). A working distance of ten inches means that, with a camera/lens combo of eight inches long, the front of your lens will be two inches from the subject at its closest focusing distance. The best macro lenses, as you might expect, have large working distances — a foot or more. The working distance increases as the focal length of the lens increases. To give you some content, the Nikon 200mm f/4 and the Canon 180mm f/3.5 are two good examples of macro lenses that have large working distances.
So What About DSLRs vs Mirrorless?
For macro photography, either DSLRs or mirrorless cameras will work just fine. If you’re looking at native mount options, DSLRs are going to be ideal due to the large choice of available macro lenses (particularly longer focal length macro lenses) and accessories. Having some sort of "live view" on your LCD is handy, since instant feedback lets you know the image framing, which allows you to detect small hand movements that can lead to big shifts in your overall composition.
Do You Need Full-Frame or Crop-Sensor?
If your goal is to create photos with the highest magnification possible, full-frame cameras are usually overkill for macro photography. Even the Nikon D810 with 36 megapixels cannot match the magnification of the 24 megapixel Nikon D7200, simply because the pixels on the D7200 are smaller. With macro photography, the highest pixel density (most pixels per square millimeter of the sensor) is what determines the maximum magnification of the subject. The large- sensor D810 has fewer pixels per millimeter than the smaller-sensor D7200, despite having more total pixels. In many genres of photography, larger pixels are preferable.
With macro photography, though, the smaller pixels lead to more magnification, even at the expense of sensor size. That being said, large-sensor cameras certainly have other advantages. If you take photos that aren’t at maximum magnification, full-frame cameras have a distinct image quality advantage. For example, you probably wouldn’t want to take a photo of a crab as close as you can focus, because the final photo would not have the entire crab in it! In this situation, the larger sensor and higher pixel count of, say, the D810 would give you a real advantage over the smaller- sensor D7200, even though the D7200 has more pixels per millimeter. So, a full-frame DSLR is still generally better for macro photos than a cropped-sensor camera, but the advantage isn’t as large as in other genres of photography.
Wrapping It All Up
There’s a great deal of technical terms related to macro photography, but the most crucial is magnification. When you understand the differences between, life-sized images and 1:4 images, you already know the most crucial macro-specific terminology that you’ll need.
To make sure you know my bias, I do feel that Nikon cameras are technically the “best” for macro photography, but you can take great macro photos with any camera, even compacts. Macro photography is extremely accessible, which is what makes it so popular among both beginners and professionals. If you’d like to chat more about this cool segment of photography, contact me.