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Uncover a Whole New World with Macro Lenses

If you are frustrated by photos that appear no better than those taken with a smartphone or compact camera even after changing to a good camera, then it just might be time for you to try using a macro lens. You’ll definitely capture photos that you would never get with a smartphone. (Edited by studio9)


A macro lens changes the way you see the world, but what is it?

Macro generally means "macroscopic", but in the world of photography, it means "capturing larger-than-life photos of small things".

When you attach a slightly different type of lens called a macro lens for your shoot, you will be able to capture a miniature world in a big way, which would not be possible with a standard lens. It's true — you will uncover an entirely new world through your viewfinder!


What is this “macro world” we’re talking about?

Perhaps an actual photo would better help you understand what kind of world you can capture with a macro lens.

This is what the macro world looks like.

This first photo is of an ant. I was able to make an insect as small as that look this big, giving you a sense that you have entered the ant’s world. This is something that a standard lens would not be able to do.

The second photo is of hydrangeas. Here, I took a close-up shot of the stamens of some hydrangeas. You can capture interesting photos as well by only taking parts of something that you think looks beautiful.

The third photo is of sakura blossoms. It would be difficult to make a flower this small appear so large with a standard lens.

In each photo, I have taken close-up shots of a small area, and the blurred remaining areas outside of the area of focus. You would be hard pressed to find photos taken using a compact camera or smartphone that can recreate this softly blurred, mysterious look when taken this close up.

In addition to capturing a miniature world that’s larger than life, another feature of macro photography is that it lets you blur everything outside the area of focus, as if it is melting away.

If you have an interchangeable lens camera (such as models from the EOS DSLR or EOS M-series), you will be able to take these kinds of photos by simply having a macro lens on hand!


Items you’ll need for macro photography

To do macro photography such as the above, all you need is an interchangeable lens camera and a macro lens!

What is a macro lens?

If you only have a kit lens or standard prime lens, you will also need a special lens called a macro lens.The difference between this and a standard lens is that it allows you to come right up close to the subject. When you are using a standard lens, as you move closer to your subject the lens will go out of focus after a certain point, whereas a macro lens of the same focal length will allow you to focus much closer to the subject. In other words, this means you can take larger-than-life photos.

Let's compare a standard lens with a macro lens.

I placed some accessories on top of a desk, and took a shot as close as possible while still in focus. For both, I shot from a focal length of approximately 100mm. The first photo was taken with a standard zoom lens (EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM), and the one after that was taken with a macro lens (EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM).

A standard zoom lens would not be able to make the subject look this big, no matter how hard you try. The lens will be out of focus if you get any closer than this.

However, with a macro lens, I was able to capture the subject this big! The difference is astounding, isn’t it? This is a feature of macro lenses.

Understanding Maximum Magnification

A macro lens normally has a maximum magnification 1x. This maximum magnification can be a little confusing, so it is sufficient just to be aware of the term. For now, remember that "1x" is the maximum size you can capture. Incidentally, with a standard zoom lens, the maximum magnification is around 0.2 to 0.3x. The larger the number, the closer up you are able to shoot.

If you are not sure about your lens’ maximum magnification, refer to the manual or webpage of the manufacturer, and look under "Specifications".

EF-S60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

It should be "1x". If it were a standard lens, this number would be something like 0.2x.

Which macro lens would you recommend?

While it will depend on the target of your shoot, personally I would recommend a lens with a focal length of 100mm at 35mm film-equivalent, which can be used for all purposes.

However, if you are using a camera with an APS-C-size sensor, a 100mm lens might be a little too telephoto for your needs, so a lens of around 60mm should do. A dedicated APS-C 60mm lens is also affordable.

Is there anything else that I need?

The closer you get to the subject, the more pronounced camera shake can be, so it is handy if you can use a small tripod.


How to find and capture the macro world

Firstly, find something that you consider to be beautiful. For example, the photo of the white hydrangea was taken at this location.

When you have found a feature that you think looks good, set up your camera, and get up close to your subject. You should be able to take a photo with a soft bokeh like the one below.

Because the subject is magnified when shooting in macro, a basic rule is to find certain parts that are beautiful. Instead of immediately setting up the camera, first look for a subject that you will likely achieve the most beautiful photos with.

First, seek out a certain feature that you find beautiful!

When you have found a feature that you think looks good, set up your camera, and get up close to your subject. You should be able to take a photo with a soft bokeh like the one below.

When you come this close, you can fully experience the macro world! The photo was also blurred nicely! However, because the focus was on several of the petals in the foreground, the subject did not turn out as beautiful as expected in the photo. People looking at this photograph might be confused as to which petal to look at.

The photo at the beginning of the article is the result of further fine-tuning of the position and angle to focus only on a single petal. The camera only focused on the petal in the bottom right!

The knack to macro photography is to focus on one point that you consider to be beautiful, and to defocus everything else. If you do that, it will be easier to convey to viewers which part you were focusing on.

When shooting in macro, focus on one point that you consider to be beautiful!


Use Aperture Priority mode

If possible, try not to use Auto mode when shooting, but instead use Av (Aperture Priority) mode. In macro photography, the degree of bokeh is important. In other words, the key is to adjust the aperture.

Start by using an aperture of around f/4.0 as a guideline, and fine tune from there. If you want more bokeh, try adjusting to f/2.8; for less, try f/5.6. Also, if you’re doing handheld shooting, you need to set quite a high shutter speed. When you come right up close as I did with the photo above, you will probably get camera shake at a speed of around 1/100 sec. Therefore, I generally recommend a shutter speed of 1/300 to 1/600 sec. When using Av mode, adjust the ISO speed yourself (increase the ISO speed for a higher shutter speed) to obtain a shutter speed that negates the effect of camera shake.

This is all you need to remember when starting off so that you can fully enjoy macro photography!


Finally, let's recap the key steps I covered for macro photography.

Step 1:  Firstly get hold of a macro lens.

Step 2:  Start your shoot by seeking out a feature that you consider to be the most beautiful.

Step 3: 
- If possible, use an aperture of f/4.0 in Av mode as a guideline. 
- For handheld shooting, use a shutter speed of 1/300 to 1/600. 
- If that’s not enough, increase the ISO speed to obtain a higher shutter speed.

It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3! Why not get hold of a macro lens and discover your very own Macro World!


Recommended Lens

EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

EF-S60mm f/2.8 Macro USM



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