Understanding macro photography lenses and gear
By Marc Langille


So what exactly is macro photography? Many definitions exist! For most of us, it's capturing the detail of something that perhaps our naked eye can't see. Macro photography is the magnification of the subject by the equipment used on the camera body.

Shooting macro has the almost universal requirements of using a tripod, flash in low light, plus other aspects of technique, but those are a separate discussion. In this article, we're going to talk about the camera gear specifically.

Helpful macro photography concepts
There are several terms unique to macro photography, so I'll cover them in brief. Below are some of the important concepts you should be familiar with.

  • MFD (minimum focal distance): closest in-focus distance from the plane of the sensor or film to the subject/object
  • MWD (minimum working distance): closest in-focus distance from the front element of the lens to the subject/object
  • Magnification: this is stated as a ratio on a dedicated macro lens. The most common ones for true macro lenses are 1:2 or 1:1, the latter being the most desirable.

As an example, my 200mm macro has an MFD of 20 inches. The MWD is 11 inches.

Common equipment setups
Here are the most common equipment setups for your camera:

  • Special magnification filters;
  • Reversing ring;
  • An extension tube set;
  • Bellows;
  • Macro focusing teleconverter;
  • A long telephoto lens;
  • A dedicated macro lens.

The first four options are great for the newcomer, but they have their limitations. Several require that you have the SLR or DSLR camera, where the lenses are interchangeable. However, with patience, some nice results are possible with the first four options. What I will cover is the estimated cost for each option, and how they work.

So let's go through the equipment setups I mentioned above, one by one.

Special magnification filters
Also known as "close-up filters", this is probably the most flexible option if you have neither the funds for a dedicated macro lens, or are traveling with minimal equipment.

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