Macro Lenses – Photography of the micro world

Macro lens is an amazing piece of optic. It is designed to bring the smaller things in the world into full detailed view. Photos of ants, grass hoppers, water droplets are only a few examples of what you can do with a macro lens attached to you camera. It brings out the smallest details that we rarely see. You don’t need to venture too far to capture macro world. You can spend an entire day in your backyard with a macro lens and capture images that seem to be from an alien world. Macro photography requires some practice and is not always easy especially if you are a beginner. In this post, we will look at some macro techniques and discuss how a macro lens differs from other lenses.

Macro Photography

Macro photography is possible by attaching a macro lens to your DSLR or Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC). The lens is designed to magnify small objects such as ants or small plants without losing detail. They are designed to photograph objects that are the same size or larger than the size of your camera image sensor. A typical crop sensor camera has an image sensor that is approximately 22mm X 15mm across. Anything within these dimensions would make a perfect macro shot. By definition, macro photography is when the size of the subject is same or larger than the medium such as film or an image sensor. This is referred to as life-size and having a magnification ratio of 1:1 (one-to-one). Macro lenses are not limited to photographing small size objects. They are also great for portrait or landscape photography.  (image courtesy Pexels)

Some point and shoot camera have built in macro capabilities. By selecting Macro mode, the camera can magnify objects at the closest focusing distance. But this is not considered a true macro, because it is not full 1:1 magnification. Only a dedicated prime macro lens having 1:1 magnification is considered a true macro lens.

Macro Lens

All lenses have magnification ratios. It means how much they magnify the object. A typical compact camera have a magnification ratio of 0.3X (0.3 times or 0.3:1). So the lens would magnify the object 0.3 times. Some prime lenses may go up to 0.5X.

Macro lenses should not be confused with zoom lenses. . Although zoom lenses magnify distant objects but they are not built for close up shots. Even some prime lenses allow for some very close-ups and can magnify to a certain extent. Nevertheless, Prime lenses or Zoom lenses will not replace a true macro lens with 1:1 magnification.

Macro lenses produce outstanding sharp and detail rich images. This is due to the wide aperture that is available at longer focal lengths. Wide aperture allows more light to pass through the lens making the subject well focused.

Minimum Focus Distance

This the closest distance to your subject without losing focus. A lens that allow for greater minimum focus distance is generally better. If you are too close to your subject, this could pose lighting issues. Your camera may cast a shadow onto your subject and block natural light. This could be an issue when photographing small insects or bugs. If you are too close to an animal or aninsect, you run into the risk of frightening it away.

Focal length of a macro lens determines its focus distance. The longer the focal length, the longer the distance from your subject. For an enthusiast or hobbyist, a 90mm or 100mm macro lens is good and allows for some decent minimum focus distance. Lenses in this range of focal length will have a minimum focus distance of about 11 to 12 inches. (image : Pixbay)

Depth of Field

It’s important to consider depth of field when shooting at very close range. It will be important pay close attention to your aperture settings. Wider aperture creates a blurry depth of field. The closer you get to you subject, the depth of field will become blurry or shallow. This will result in only part of your image being in focus. For example if you’re trying to photograph a bumble bee with wide open aperture, only center area of the image will in focus. Rest of the body will be blurred out. To overcome this problem, you will need to shoot with a narrow aperture of around f/18.  Narrow apeture around f/18 will create sharpt depth of field.  This way you entire image will be sharp an well focused.  This will take some time and practice to correct.

Auto Focus

Most macro lenses lack auto focus. Some expensive models do come with auto focus option. Auto focus is not very useful for macro photography anyways. Manual focus is widely for close up shots. Because you are shooting extremely small objects at a very close distance, stability is utmost important for macro photography. Without proper stabilization, your images will be blurry and appear out of focus. Although some cameras and lenses have image stabilization, nothing will replace the solid stability of a tripod. A solid tripod is a must for macro photography. I would even recommend using shutter release remote control. This is a device that uses an electronic remote to control the camera without you having to physically touch it. This would prevent camera shake when you depress the shutter release button to take the photo.

There is a good lens that I found at an affordable price. It’s the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens. It is available for both Nikon and Canon models. It is a full frame lens which means it will fit both the 35mm and the crop sensor camera. This is true macro lens with 1:1 magnification ratio. It is well suits for macro and portrait photography. Read my review here if you like to learn more about this lens.


Macro photography will open doors to a new world. A neighborhood park will keep you busy and engaged for hours. Not to mention the creativity it will bring to our minds. I would highly recommend getting kids involved in the genre of macro photography. It will a great help in the field of education for these little inquiring minds. This will teach them how small insects like bugs, bees, ants, and thousands more are important to our ecosystem. Having a macro lens will be great addition to your photography equipment. I hope this article has given you some insight about macro lenses. Please leave any comment or question below. (image courtesy unsplash)

1 Comment

  1. What a great site and great article.  I was a photographer many years ago before my children were born, and while I did take photos on my phone throughout their life, my camera broke many, many years ago and I never got a new one.  Now that they are pretty-much grown, I’m wanting to get back into photography, and your site is a valuable resource.  I really need a refresher on the terminology and, of course, the newest technology.  Much has changed, but I’m finding that a lot has also stayed the same.  Just wanted to pop in and thank you for providing great information.

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