So you're interested in macro photography equipment, but you don't know where to start. Here's the deal. It's a great time to be interested in digital photography, but it's one of those good news-bad news situations.
It's really good news because you have a lot of options. It's only bad news because it's confusing on where to start. This article will help you get started by keeping it simple.
You only need 3 basic pieces of macro photography equipment to get started.
Technology has given us great options and you can get fully involved in taking some great macro photography without having to understand the technical side of things.
The easiest way for you to dive into getting the macro photography you need is to stick with the basics. You have other options of course, but if you want to keep it simple, these are the 3 pieces of macro photography that will give you the most chance for success.
You can certainly play around with close-up photography without using any of these gadgets, but you're more likely to avoid the common mistakes that beginning macro photographers make. A macro lens will insure you'll get up close and focused on your subject. A tripod will give you images free of motion blur, and a macro flash will make it so much easier to get the correct exposure and achieve good depth of field.
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 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.
You only need to look at what lenses are compatible with your camera and then simple choose the right focal length. Generally, macro lenses that are around 60mm in length are great starter lenses, will perform admirably, and are very affordable. Often your working distance to the subject is less than 6 inches.
Longer lense, like 80-105mm, give you a further working distance which is valuable if your shooting insects or objects that you can't quite get real close to. Usually your working distance from the front of the lens is about 1 or 2 feet with lenses this size. These are the most popular option.
180-200mm macro lenses have more glass and are heavier and pricier. They give you a superior working distance of several feet. Additionally, with longer lenses you will have plenty space to use larger lighting gear without interfering with the light. You can also save money on a lens by looking at alternatives.
Almost any tripod can serve you well with your macro photography. Some tripods are better suited for shooting at lower angles than others and some have tripod heads that are must easier to work with. It all depends on the type of macro photography subjects you're shooting.
Generally, you don't need a particularly tall tripod to shoot macro photos. It's better to look for tripods that have variable angle legs or an adjustable angle center post to give you versatility with your shooting angles. Tripod heads that have handles are easier to make fine adjustments to camera position. Camera position adjustment is magnified because of the close working distances you're dealing with in macro photography.
Here's more on tripods for macro photography.
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.
I use natural macro lighting whenever possible, but due to the challenges associated with this kid of photography, electronic flash is very convenient and used by many macro photographers. 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.
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.
Now, you've got an idea on the 3 basic pieces of macro photography gear. Here's an alternative choice for getting a dedicated macro lens. I've never purchased an expensive macro photography lens. I get great image quality, enjoy the versatility, appreciate the durability and absolutely loved the price of macro photography extension tubes.
The accessory I use most (Not counting my tripod, of course) is a photographer's clamp made by Wimberly. It's called the Wimberley Plamp II. It's kind of weird looking, and you might be called an accessory geek, but it was designed for function, not looks. It's really like having a third hand available to assist you.
The first version of the specialized clamp got good reviews, but some of the feedback on the original version provided the manufacturers with some good ideas for improvements.
The resulting re-design brought us the Wimberley Plamp II. It's not perfect. No accessory is, but I use mine in certain macro photography situations and it really is a nice gadget.
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. It's a bit on the gimmicky side, but us camera geeks do these things sometimes.
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.
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.
Keep shooting, keep learning, keep improving.