So you're interested in macro photography equipment, but you don't know where to start. You guessed it. It's one of those good news-bad news situations. You have a lot of options.
Good news because you have lots of choices that don't force you to invest a ton of money. You can get fully involved in taking some great macro photography without using expensive macro photography gear. Bad news because you don't know where to start.
The first piece of macro photography gear that comes to mind is the standard macro lens. Well, guess what. I've taken dozens of really stunning macro images without using a macro lens. We'll get to that in a minute. This article covers the lesser-known lens set-ups and related macro accessories. For the more popular types of macro gear, read this post on accessories for macro photography
There are also many dirt cheap macro photography equipment choices available to you that can get several macro "toys" and take your macro photography to a whole new level. Some accessories are more affordable than others. Some are super simple and some are super complex. Okay, let's dive in.
One unique way to get highly magnified macro photos is to use two existing lenses in a technique called Lens Stacking. This is a technique I learned from Popular Photography magazine a long, long time ago.
Lens stacking involves holding or attaching two lenses, face to face to magnify your subject. This is a great thing to do with any old 35mm film lenses you may have access to.
The shorter lens is reversed and is usually attached to the end of the longer lens which is attached to the camera in the normal way. The two lenses are held together with a male-to-male filter adapter.
You'll lose autofocus and autoexposure functions, so it may take a little more time to get a great photo, but if you're not in a hurry you can't beat the price of this macro photography equipment setup. If your lenses are old and not being used for anything else, you can even tape them together for this macro technique.
Using the formula below, you can figure out the amount of magnification that you are achieving for any two lenses that you use. This is a very affordable way to enter the world of macro photography and you can great magnification of your subject. It'll just take you some time playing around to get things set just right.
If you have a 100mm telephoto as the main lens and you reverse the 50mm lens, your magnification would be 100 divided by 50, or a 2x magnification factor. A longer telephoto such as a 200 mm lens would then give you a whopping 4x magnification factor.
It is not an exact formula, but it give you a good estimate of the amount of magnification when you use this lens stacking technique.
There are three possible downsides to this method:
Confession time: I've never purchased an expensive macro photography lens. I get great image quality, enjoy the versatility, appreciate the durability and absolutley love the price of macro photography extension tubes.
A reversing ring, also known as a reversing adapter, is a very affordable piece of equipment that allows you to use your one regular lens by mounting it to your camera in a reverse manner.
You are forced to use manual focusing and manual aperture control unless you spend a few hundred dollars on the manufacturers specialty adapter, but that makes no sense. It would make sense to go ahead and spend money on a true macro lens.
The reversing ring is not a bad place to start if you already have a camera with interchangeable lenses. Remember your regular lens was not designed to be a piece of macro photography equipment, so the optics won't be perfect. It is still a great option to use to dabble in macro photography if you already have this equipment.
Bellows give you the ultimate flexibility in terms of controlling the amount of magnification you wish to achieve with your macro photography. Bellows work in the same way as extension tubes, but at a much higher level.
With extension tubes, you must change the number of tubes you attach to change the magnification. Using bellows as your macro photography equipment gives you a continuous range of magnification possibilities without changing lenses or tubes.
Extreme magnification is possible with a bellows arrangement. Extremely narrow depth of field and longer exposure times come along with that extreme magnification. One drawback to using a bellows is its size and weight, making a little less agile to work with while photographing tiny objects, especially out in the field.
If the object of your macro photo is stationary, bellows are a great option to get super close-ups. Here is a web site dedicated to macro bellows photography.
I use natural macro lighting whenever possible, but due to the challenges associated with this kid of photography, electronic flash is often used by photographers.
Without using any diffusion, this is personally my least favorite macro lighting technique. For me, it is quite unnatural to have equal amounts of light coming from both sides of the subject.
You can soften the harsh shadows by using a diffusing material of any kind in front of your flashes or by bouncing them off of a larger surface to scatter the light.
The big advantage of using flash lighting for macro photography is lightning-quick exposures prevent motion blur and the brightness gives you the ability to use a smaller aperture and get better depth of field which is critical in close-up photography.
Ring flash is perhaps best known for use with scientific and medical photography where shadow-less lighting is desired.
It provides very even illumination for macro photography. You can often easily tell it has been used by looking at the highlights or reflections in a macro photo when a ring flash or O-flash was used.
The idea behind the O-flash is that it is not a complete circle of light so it will give you a little bit of desired shadowing.
It does not provide a 360 degree circle of light, so may get a little bit of the feel of a directional light, depending on the size and the closeness of your subject.
There are additional ways to modify your macro photography lighting and I discussed them in this article: macro lighting equipment.
I saved the most important for last. You can use a variety of different cameras, lenses, and accessories to take good close-ups. The one universally needed accessory taking for sharp macro images in a good tripod.
Camera stability and precise focus are critical. You can read more about how to choose the best tripod for outdoor macro photography here.
I now buy almost all of my photography gear at Amazon and Adorama.
It cost you nothing to visit their sites. It costs you no extra money if you go on and decide to purchase something after using one of the links below.
Amazon and Adorama both give me a little financial "thank you" for helping you find what you wanted.
Have a blast. Go ahead what are you waiting for? Stimulate your creativity and the economy by buying, using and playing with some serious macro photography equipment.