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Brisbane Bug Snappers Message Board › starter macro basics for those wanting to join the group

starter macro basics for those wanting to join the group

Brisbane, AU
Post #: 1
What kind of camera to bring?

Almost anything that still actually turns on is fine for macro. Bridge cameras (looks like DSLR, but the lens doesn't come off), DSLRs (same but the lens does come off), mirrorless cameras (often looks like a compact but the lens comes off) - pretty much anything made in the last 10 years will be fine for macro shooting purposes. Some very small compact cameras - mainly pocket cameras with a fixed short length lens - can have problems macro shooting, depending on the design.

The easiest way to find out if your camera will be OK for shooting macro subjects is to just go outside and shoot with it. Don't be concerned about quality of the photo in any way, just shoot to see what the smallest size subject you can actually fit in the frame is. Use a ruler or something you know the length of already - if you can fit about a 10cm wide subject completely into the frame (left side of the ruler says 1mm, right side says 10cm), this will be totally fine to shoot larger insects like butterflies and dragonflies with a little cropping. If you want to do extreme closeups of animals like bees, jumping spiders, etc, you should be looking to achieve around 5cm from edge to edge or less.

Some cheap macro options:

Close up lens:
If you have a interchangeable lens camera with a long lens (around 75mm or longer), or a compact or bridge camera with about that length or longer printed on its lens, you can stick a close up lens on it to increase magnification. There are many sets of "close up lenses" on ebay that are awful junk, what you want is a specific kind of close up lens called an achromatic diopter. Good ones are things like the Raynox DCR-250 and DCR-150, the Canon 250D and 500D (you don't need a canon camera to use these), and the Marumi +N diopter sets. They canon sets can be found at most photography stores locally, the Raynox and Marumi are available on amazon, ebay, b&h photo, etc. They're a bit more money than your generic ebay close up lens, but they're much higher quality and properly correct colours as they increase magnification. The Raynox lenses have a clip to adapt to many different sizes of lenses, the Canon and Marumi set need to match the filter thread size of your lens. You can use a thing called a step up (or step down) ring to match them to the size of your camera.

Extension tubes
If you have a mirrorless or DSLR camera and a lens of 50mm or less, you can increase magnification with an extension tube. The tube sits between the camera body and lens, similar to using a magnifying glass, the further away you push the lens from the sensor, the greater its magnification. If you're using a modern lens with autofocus and auto aperture, you want a specific kind of tube called Auto Extension tubes with electronic contacts, not a "dumb" tube - otherwise some lens functions may not work at all.

If you want to know specifically how much magnification a diopter or extension tube will give you, there's a calculator here:


where if you know the magnification (googling is the simplest way) of a lens or camera and the true focal length, you can see what adding a length of tube or strength of diopter will do. For the diopter strength field, the Raynox 150 is +4.8, the 250 is +8, the Canon 250D is +4, the 500D is +2, the Marumi sets are simply the number they say they are (eg +2). If you're new to macro, you might find it safer to start with comparatively low magnifications (0.1 to 0.5x) rather than leaping straight into microscopic ranges over 1x. Extension tubes are simply the printed mm length they say they are and tend to work better on shorter focal length lenses.

Good cheap proper macro lenses:

The following lenses often turn up on Ebay second hand for very cheap ($100-300) and assuming they're in good working order will produce very acceptable results. Macro lenses from the film era are still very high quality pieces of glass, and used at useful macro apertures (F5.6+) are often every bit as good as modern lenses. You will miss out on autofocus, but autofocus is of limited use for macro subjects anyway. Unlike using a diopter or extension tube, these lenses are "proper" macro lenses, that do 0.5 or 1x magnification natively, and have good distortion and colour correction in that range.

Vivitar 100mm F3.5 macro (complete lens comes with a clip on lens)

Vivitar/Panagor/Soligor 90mm F2.8 macro

Nikon micro-nikkor 55mm F2.8

Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm F4.5 Macro w/ Extension Tube 65-116

Pentax SMC-Takumar Macro 100/4 (not the bellows version)

Tamron 90mm F2.5 SP Macro

Many of these are available in many different mounts (nikon, canon, etc). If you have a Pentax, Nikon, Sony A mount or Canon DSLR camera, you will probably have less frustration if you buy a lens already in the specific mount for your camera rather than adapting a mount to it. Most mirrorless cameras (sony E, Micro 4/3rds, Fuji X) can adapt pretty much any manual focus film era macro lens to them with a dumb contactless adapter.

An alternative to dealing with ebay sellers is a site called - this site grades their used lenses and offers pretty reasonable shipping to Australia.
Brisbane, AU
Post #: 2
I have macro gear, but my macro shots are noisy or blurry

Macro is just inherently a difficult thing to make a camera do and you shouldn't worry if you're not instantly good at it - just in practical physical terms, it has a fairly high minimum shutter speed for moving subjects or wind, while also needing higher depth of field at higher F-stops, and a thing called macro effective aperture shows up at reasonable magnifications to eat what little light is left. If you increase ISO to make up for having less light on the sensor, you get more noise, if you drop shutter speed, you get more motion blur, and if you decrease the F-stop, very little of the subject will be in focus. The easiest trick to get better photos is to add a flash and a flash diffuser - this adds a whole bunch of light to the shot, and you can push your shutter speed and f-stop up again without adding loads of noise.

For bridge and other non-removable lens cameras, or other cameras with no hotshoe or inbuilt flash, flash compatibility can be tricky and I'd suggest having a good google of your options.

Flash and flash diffusers

If you want a cheap flash to get started with, Metz, Neewer and Yongnuo make decent quality manual hotshoe mount flashes. If you want to go slightly higher grade, look for a flash with TTL, which is extremely handy for macrophotography - this automatically sets flash strength rather than needing to set the power manually. For TTL functionality you will usually need to buy a specific flash for your kind of camera, and they can tend to be a bit more expensive. In general I'd suggest you at least get a flash with head that can tilt up and down, and that has at least 2 AA batteries for power (actual output power can be quite difficult to compare between brands). Another handy feature is wireless functionality, which means the flash can be positioned somewhere else than on the camera hotshoe. Again, features like this tend to cost more and you need to check compatibility with your camera, wireless being another vendor-specific standard.

The diffuser is something you can make at home from packing material, milk cartons, and other household items - you don't need to buy an expensive name brand one at all, and experimenting with making one at home is a great way to learn how different ways to bounce light around give photos a different look. Googling will show you several guides to making one.


Same as any other kind of photography, there really isn't a shortcut to practice. If you can't find live subjects all hours of the day, try practicing on everyday things like coins, your toothbrush, herbs and seeds, flowers, etc. Most things look strange enough to be interesting close up and everything you learn about lighting, composition, etc will apply the same as for doing a shot of a beetle later. A lot of pro macro people toss at least half of what they shoot straight in the bin for micron-scale issues with focus or one bit of burned out highlight from flash, don't feel bad if you don't get instant success with it starting out.

This is about long enough at this point I think! Any questions feel free to ask, we have a few people here who are happy to help, I think.
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