Many photographers enjoy macro photography. There’s something wondrous about getting up close to the smaller aspects of the world to discover the usually unseen details. The natural world holds many secrets that can be found with the right equipment, and you don’t have to venture far from home to find it. Flowers, insects and leaves can all be readily found in your own back garden. We’ll take a look at some of the essential macro photography equipment you need to get started, as well as some great examples of kit we’d recommend.
Macro Photography Equipment: The Essentials
There are a few must-haves when it comes to macro photography. Usually a lens is a good place to start, but there are other options to consider if you can’t afford to splash out on an expensive macro lens. Here’s everything you need to get started:
- Macro Lens
- Close-up Filters
- Extension Tunes
- Reversing Ring
We’ll take a look at each one in turn to determine what makes it essential, and provide some examples along the way.
Macro Photography Equipment: Lenses
The defining features of a true macro lens lies in its focal length range and magnification. Many zoom lenses will have a macro setting, but this won’t be quite ‘true’ macro. A true macro lens has a focal length range of 50mm-200mm with a magnification of 1:1. Anything less than this falls outside the parameters. If you’re looking to take detailed pictures with a greater subject-to-lens distance (particularly important when photographing small, active creatures) then a range of 50-100mm is essential. Generally speaking, the longer the focal length range, the more expensive the lens. You’ll definitely notice the benefits of something that extends to 150mm or 200mm, but the price will be far higher than something in the 50-60mm range.
Why it’s great:
- 90mm prime lens with f/2.8 aperture.
- Vibration Compensation image stabilization.
- Ultrasonic Drive autofocus.
Tamron have a good reputation for producing prime lenses, and their 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is among the best. The fixed focal range of 90mm is perfect for macro photography of all kinds, and a host of features make life easier for the user. Vibration compensation and ultrasonic drive autofocusing make it easy to pick out a subject and accurately and quickly focus on it. It compensates for hand movements to keep your focus shot steady to produce images that are high-quality and razor sharp. The design is robust and well-made, and overall this is one of our favorite pieces of macro photography equipment.
Why it’s great:
- 1:1 magnification.
- Focus-free design.
- 31cm focusing distance.
The 105mm range and f/2.8 aperture make this another great macro lens. Sigma have created an optically fantastic lens with a maximum focusing distance of 31cm. The focus-free mechanical design means there will be no interference from the manual focus ring when you’re holding the lens for an up-close shot. Optical performance is very good, with colors and sharpness being excellently reproduced, helped by the SML (super multi-layer) coating on the glass. The optical stabilizer means the lens holds steady when focusing, even when the details are so close.
Why it’s great:
- Hybrid optical image stabilization.
- Focus range limiter.
- Excellent quality and handling.
Canon’s ‘L’ range is their professional-level range of lenses. Lenses in this range are precision engineered to deliver stunning optical performance. This 100mm macro lens does just that. The hybrid optical image stabilization compensates for a range of movements to keep your focus steady when shooting up close. Sharpness and contrast is enhanced by an ultra-low dispersion element that also helps control chromatic aberration, and the focus range limiter allows the user to select a suitable focus range from a switch on the barrel.
Macro Photography Equipment: Close-up Filters
If you’re just starting out with macro photography, then you’re unlikely to want to spend a lot of money on a high-quality macro lens. The good news is that macro photography equipment doesn’t have to be expensive. A close-up filter, also known as a diopter, is a magnification tool that can screw into the filter threads of a standard lens. They are an inexpensive way of creating a macro lens-effect.
Close-up filters work best with shorter focal length ranges, such as on a standard zoom or 50mm prime lens. The most common strengths of filter are +2, +3, and +4, with each increase in number giving an increase in magnification. Image quality isn’t as good as on a true macro lens, but for a fraction of the price it’s an option worth exploring, particularly if you’re just starting out. Here are some of the close-up filters we would recommend:
- Hoya close-up filters – offered in a range of sizes and magnifications, Hoya filters produce a shallow depth of field and are coated to reduce lens flare and ghosting.
- Polaroid Close Up Filter – also offered in a range of sizes and magnifications and are dual-threaded so multiple strengths can be combined.
Macro Photography Equipment: Extension Tubes
One of the key aspects of macro photography is being able to get up close to your subject and focus on it. This is where an extension tube comes in handy. They are hollow devices that sit in between the lens and sensor to give you a closer focus point than usual. How close you can get is determined by the relative size of the extension tube to the lens’s focal lens; for example a 50mm lens and 50mm extension tube will give a 1:1 ratio, whereas a 100mm lens and a 50mm extension tube will give a 2:1 ratio.
Here are some examples you should consider:
- Canon Extension Tubes – specifically for Canon lens mounts and up to Canon’s usual high-standard.
- Nikon Extension Tubes – specifically for Nikon lens mounts, also high-quality.
- Kenko Extension Tubes – provide extensions for Canon EF/EFS, Nikon-AF and Sony Alpha lens mounts in a range of sizes.
- Vello Extension Tubes – also provide extensions for Canon EF/EFS, Nikon-AF and Sony Alpha lenses.
Macro Photography Equipment: Reversing Rings
Another innovative way of getting into macro photography without spending a fortune on a lens is to use a reversing ring. As the name suggests, these allow you to reverse the way you mount your lens to the camera. Although this comes at the cost of autofocus and aperture control, it does allow you to take some great macro shots in an affordable way. They work particularly well with a 50mm lens.
Macro Photography Equipment: Portable Flash
If you’re serious about what you’re doing, a portable flash is an essential piece of macro photography equipment. To achieve a greater depth of field and a faster shutter speed, more light is the essential component. Therefore, a portable flash is a must-have.
Having more light allows for greater flexibility with what you’re shooting, and a flash is often a brighter and more practical option than a static light for macro work. Here are some of our top pics for macro portable flashes:
Why it’s great:
- Delivers both constant light and flash lighting.
- Lightweight and portable.
- Inexpensive yet powerful.
The beauty of the Aputure Amaran Halo LED flash is that it offers both constant lighting for macro video capture and flash lighting for stills. The power is manually adjustable, giving you the flexibility to find the right level for your shots. It has eight mounting rings giving you a range of options for fitting in filter thread sizes, including 49mm and 77mm.
Why it’s great:
- Wireless connection to camera.
- Excellent results.
If you own a Nikon camera that uses the pop-up flash in commander mode, this is a good choice of portable flash for your macro shots. It can connect wirelessly with compatible cameras which is very convenient. It comes with five screw-in adaptors for a range of lens thread sizes, as well as diffusers, colored filters, and stands for the flashguns.
Why it’s great:
- Fits almost any lens.
- Excellent features at a reasonable price.
The Nissin MF18 Macro Flash comes with a wide range of adapter rings, from 52mm to 77mm. This is expandable to 49mm and 82mm. This means it will be compatible with almost any lens. It also offers very good results for the price.