Macro Photography on a Budget

The classic definition of macro photography is that the image projected onto the digital sensor (or film plane) should be the same size as the subject. At a 1:1 ratio, an SLR with a full-sized chip should have the ability to produce life-size magnification and focus on an area as small as 24×36 mm. Lens manufacturers sometimes describe a lens’s close-focusing capabilities as “macro” even if it doesn’t quite meet that definition and over time it has gradually come to mean being able to focus on a subject close enough so the image is life-size or larger when viewing a 4×6 inch print, which only requires a magnification ratio of approximately 1:4.

close up w/o filter

I made this flowerbox photo in the shade with a Canon EOS 20D and a used EF 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Conventional wisdom is that close-up photography requires lots of expensive, specialized equipment and while it’s true you can spend lots of money in order to make macro shots, you don’t have to break your piggy bank to shoot macro, no matter how you choose to define it. Here’s why…

Close-up with filter

A Tiffen Close-Up +4 filter was attached to that same EF 50mm f/1.8 lens allowing me to get closer to the flower.

Most filter and camera manufacturers offer what are sometimes called close-up “filters.” Although not really filters in the traditional sense, they pass the duck test: They look like filters, work like filters and quack like filters, so I’ll call’em filters like everybody else. But close-up filters are really supplementary lenses that shorten your camera lens’ close-focusing distance allowing you to get closer to the subject.

Close-up filters, such as the ones used to shoot the above example, are available in different strengths (or diopters) as a set usually includes versions labeled Close-up +1, Close-up +2, and Close-up +4. A diopter is a unit of measurement that’s used to describe the power of a lens and is expressed as the reciprocal of the focal length in meters. Tip: Close-up lenses are double-threaded so they can be used in combination with one another but to get the sharpest results it’s a good idea to place the strongest filter closest to the lens’s front element. For macro shooters on a budget, a complete set of really good close-up filters in 52mm threads should cost about $50.

Author: Joe Farace

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