Macro Photography – Part 1: The gear

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I have been doing macro photography to find inspiration for a long time. The advantages of macro photography are simple, you do not have to leave the confines of your home to discover the macro world, it’s all around you, in your house and in your garden.

There are a few requirements to get started, for example a lens that is capable of handling the macro world… Or maybe not. Either way, some investment will be required if you do not have a macro capable lens.

Here are some options:

Lens Reversal Ring

Lens Reversal Ring

Budget: R 200 ($20) +

Lens reversal ring camera
This little device allows you to mount your lens backwards and suddenly your 18-55mm kit lens is a macro lens. Though in this case I would advise a 50mm prime. This is the cheapest way to start with macro photography. Be careful when you buy these, make sure that you are getting the right size for your lens and check the compatibility with your camera. Also remember that everything becomes manual.
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Macro extension tubes

Macro extension tubes

Budget: R300 ($30) +

Macro extension tubes
These are tubes that offset the lens to allow for shorter focus. Any lenses can be used with these tubes though I would recommend 100mm and above. Many, but not all, allow for pass-through commands to the lens for aperture and sometimes even auto focus. This is my recommended budget method because it does not affect the optics by adding glass in front of the lens and is highly portable. I also found that it’s easier to use the zoom ring, if you are using a zoom lens, to focus as opposed to the focus ring.
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Folding Macro Bellows

Folding Macro Bellows

Budget: R 900 ($100) +

Folding Macro Bellows
This works on the same principle as macro extension tubes, though more bulky and adjustable. This is however the least portable solution.
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Macro close up filters

Macro close up filters

Budget: R 1000 ($100) +

Macro close up filters
These screw into the front of your lens and they can be stacked. This option is the lightest and smallest of the lot, however you will notice image degradation as you stack these filters. There are other issues with these, the screw in method  means that the filter size is important, if you change lenses later the size may vary, I would advice buying a larger diameter and a step-down ring.
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Macro zoom lenses

Macro zoom lenses

Budget: R2000 ($200) +

Macro zoom lenses
These are specialized zoom lenses that come in different length and from a variety of manufacturers, your existing zoom lens may even support macro, check. Most macro zoom lenses are also good standard zoom lenses, they are special because they can focus at shorter distances making them ideal for capturing the macro world. 
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Macro prime lenses

Macro prime lenses

Budget: R4000 ($400) +

Macro prime lenses
Finally, we have arrived at the favored method of capturing the macro world, the prime or fixed macro lens. These come in various flavors, much as the macro zoom does, and they also make amazingly good portrait lenses, but they have a serious downfall, they are usually prohibitively priced.
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Whatever method you choose, the entry into the macro world is a fascinating one that I will be diving into in future articles.

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Recommended Gear
Ring flash

Ring flash

RayFlash

RayFlash

Additionally to your choice of macro gear I would add one more piece or equipment, a ring flash. Here there are also relatively cheap solutions as well as more expensive ones. I tried a RayFlash type solution, it is the cheap way out but I was never quiet impressed with it. It attaches to your external flash and runs the light into a ring flash (see right product photo). Though it makes full use of TTL, the problem with it in macro photography it sits behind the front of the lens, sometimes creating a shadow in the center of the frame. The more expensive way is a lens mounted solution such as the METZ Mecablitz 15 MS-1 which is a little difficult to set up the 1st time you use it but it is a set up and forget. Obviously there are other solutions with multiple flashes or even constant LED.
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Originally posted on LivDigital Independent on the 07 May 2013, see http://www.livdigital.co.za/macro-photography

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