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Macro, Micro & close up

How to achieve macro, micro or close up photography

Macro lenses

In order from left to right - Schneider Kreuznach 50 mm enlarger lens, extender tubes + reversed Nikor28 mm f3.5, Tamron 90 mm F2.8 macro lens, standard Zeiss 16-70 zoom lens



The main purpose of every camera is to capture a scene on a small area of the camera sensor (or film).

Thus most lenses somewhat scale/shrink/reduce a scene to the size of the sensor. Exactly what our eyes do.

However in many cases the object we photograph is very small, smaller than the camera we use.

Smaller even than the sensor that is in our camera.


When we make effort to capture such object by getting "closer" to it, we go into the fields of close up/macro photography.

Lenses and principles

Brush photo
DSLR vs Mirrorless Diagram
Brush photo - enlarged

Close up case

Object details are reproduced and focused on the sensor in ratio of 1/4 and more - four times smaller than real size.

DSLR vs Mirrorless Diagram
Brush photo for macro
Brush photo enlarged macro

Macro case

Object details are reproduced and focused on the sensor in ratio of 1/4 to 2:1  - four times smaller to two times bigger than real size.

DSLR vs Mirrorless Diagram
Image of brush
Extreme macro image of brush

Micro case

Object details are reproduced by the sensor in ratio of  2:1 and bigger  - 2 times bigger than real size and larger. 

Optical diagram how object is refracted through lens

Sensor has important role in photography parameters, but doesn't affect the magnification ratio.


In order to  focus, on a object that is very small and very close to the sensor, we need a lens that is able to project light rays in focus fruther away compared to normal lens.


So such lens needs to have some magnification front glass, and specific lens group that distance it enough from sensor to allow for close focus.


My knowledge of lens design is very limited, and in order to demonstrate how it works I will use a diagram from the best site I've found on the subject.

A french wildlife photographer Pierre Toscani, have made very detailed and interesting lens analysis below.

Hover with mouse to see middle lens  groups moving to adjust focus.

When lens is in closest possible focus position, magnification is 1:1 (denoted as g= -1, meaning ratio of 1:1)

Now, in order to have better understanding, about options to get macro capabilities, lets simplify above diagram.

The front lens group can be considered magnifier.

The lens group that are merging towards the middle can be considered as the distancer from the sensor.

Derived from those two simplifications we can arrive at the understadning, what to do, to get macro capabilities :

  1. Add a magnifier in front (dioptre lenses)
  2. Use extender rings on the back (distance back lens from sensor) to allow for closer focus
  3. Combine both


How to get macro photography started ?


I've always wanted to shoot extremely close up shots, even before I knew the term macro. This type of photography shows detail unseen by normal human eyevision, although it is always around us and we are fascinated by it.


First thing I wanted to know is how to get those really close insect shots, where you see detailed facet eyes, the expression of the subject, every single microscopic detail.


Here is all options I've explored, sorted by price


Reversed zoom(kit) lens

  • ​The magnification will be 1/ magnification ratio of the lens when it is not reversed

  • Very cheap as it only requires a ring adapter from your mount type to the front filter thread size (5-10 $)

  • No AF, control over aperture is almost none

Reverse ring for macro

This reverse ring has your camera mount on the one side, and filter thread on the other

Close up = dioptre lenses 

  • I don't know how magnification ratio to estimated precisely - multiply dioptre factor by magnification ratio of the lens.

  • Price is between 12-40 $ for a full set non-original dioptres, and at least 50-60$ for one original glass 

  • Very easy to use

  • Only center sharpness will be acceptable. AF will not work well

Close Up filters

Enlarging lenses (could be reversed)

  • Give similar magnification as it is described, should be same when reversed

  • ​Tricky to find, but should be within 50-100 $ price

  • Very uniform sharpness, and you have control over aperture

Enlarging lens

      Generally those lenses purpose was to project a film on a paper.

      They have simple and effective optical design and are always primes (no vario zoom). As a result they provide very flat (not distorted) image and very little chromatic abberations. When used with extension tubes resulting maginification could be very high.

Reversed manual wide angle fixed focal length lens

  • 60-80 $ for 28mm f3.5 Nikor lens (no AI) and more for f2.8

  • Magnification is 1/magnification ratio of lens ~ x3-4

  • Full manual lens perfect for macro, but distance from subject is very short

DSLR with reversed lens

Macro lens

  • At least 500$, however unmatched quality at 1:1 magnification

  • Very big

Macro lens Sony 90 mm f2.8
Ful frame mirroless camera with macro lens

Extender rings (tube) + any of the lens above 

  • If it's combined with any of the options above you'll increase magnification and reduce the focusing distance

  • Just attach it between the lens and the camera

  • Reduces resolution and light so don't combine more than 3-4 rings

      Extension tubes are often sold in kit of 3 which gives you the freedom to combine them. Order is not important and you can stack more than 3 if you need, at the cost of light loss (both brightness and resolution will be reduced with the increase of tube stack) 


DLSR with extender rings

Macro lens with magnification 2:1 and higher

  • At least 600$ and probably the best option if money is not а problem 

Canon MP-e 65mm/f 2.8 macro lens

Canon famous MP-e 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro lens - something like universal macro lens comes at very high price

Special macro lens

Yasuhara Nanoha Macro Lens 5:1 lens is more like a mountable microscope with LED lights to help lit the subject

I strongly recommend starting with close up dioptre lens as they are cheap and give good flexibility - quality is not very good especially when stacked but it will allow to understand limitations and specifics very easily


I don't recomend reversing zoom lens (or kit zoom lens) unles it has mechanical manual controls over aperture and focus.


There are a few micro specific lenses that will provide best initial results but are pricey.


To be continued....

As a matter of fact magnification of 1:2, 1:4, 1:5 etc. are considered "macro" mainly by lens manifacturers, to attract buyers with questionable macro capabilities.


True macro is 1:1 - real life size is focused and projected on sensor exactly.

Another name for micro photography is "extreme macro".


     Naming and magnification ratios are not defined rules, it's just a technical definition accepted by manifacturers and photographers. In general everything that goes beyond 1:1 ratio (real life size is on the sensor) is considered macro photography.

Every, minimum focus distance lens, shot, with less than 1:1 magnification is considered close up photography.


How is enlarging of subject hapening ?


Going closer to the subject enlarges the subject details projected on the sensor. However in order to get focused image a specific lens design parameters have to be optimised.


In practice aforementioned 3 cases (close up, macro, micro) are achieved with different lenses. There are only  few lenses in the world that can cover all those.


Only three things matter in all this cases, size of the subjectdistance to subject and lens focal length.

In a simplified lens diagram:

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