If you want to dabble in the craft of macro photography, it will help if you invest in the right camera gear. These include the lens, extension, tube, and close-up filters beside the camera itself. Continue reading to learn about the complete list of my recommended macro photography equipment.
As a casual photographer, it is important for me that I have the right equipment to capture stunning images. There is no need to own the most expensive or most advanced camera gear. You just need to consider what works for you or not, especially when it comes to macro photography.
This unique genre of photography requires you to take photos up close. So when the object has soft focus or any issue, it will be noticeable. Thus, it is essential to get the right camera gear to minimize these problems.
Fortunately, this article will walk you through the essential macro photography equipment you must have. I will also include recommendations for each one to make everything more convenient for you. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have an idea of which camera tools to get.
Without further ado, let us dive right in!
It is essential to get a camera that gives you a certain amount of flexibility to shoot small subjects up close.
However, unlike other types of photography, macro photography does not require top-of-the-line DSLRs or mirrorless models to achieve excellent photos. As long as you have an interchangeable lens camera, the differences between different camera brands and types really would not matter much.
The reason behind this fact is twofold.
First, in macro photography, you do not usually shoot at large apertures like f/1.8 and f/2.8. Instead, you use smaller apertures to achieve enough depth of field, which helps you achieve in-focus photos. These aperture values offer enough diffraction that the amount of sharpness is limited, regardless of the camera you choose. So it would not really matter if you invest in a 24-megapixel model over a 50-megapixel one.
Second, a camera with a larger sensor size is not necessarily important in macro photography. That is because a full-frame camera and an APS-C model feature around the same pixel density, meaning they have the same capability to capture close-up details. Thus, having a full-frame sensor for macro photography will not have a huge advantage over crop sensors, unlike other genres of photography, like portraiture.
To sum up, the type of camera is not that big of a factor when it comes to macro photography. Whatever camera you already own is almost certainly enough for this kind of photography.
First, check the maximum magnification of the product. Some lenses, especially cheap ones, claim to be macro types, but they only offer 1:3 or 1:2 magnification. It is best to look for a macro lens with 1:1 magnification or more. That means the size of the subject in focus is exactly the same size as the image sensor. Therefore, it gives you a larger-than-life perspective, ideal for capturing small and close-up subjects.
Second, consider getting true macro lenses with a minimum focusing distance of at least 30cm. As its name suggests, this factor refers to the shortest distance at which a lens can focus. And when it comes to macro photography, the closer, the better.
Furthermore, look for lenses with a longer focal length. These give you more room between the lens and macro object. Thus, it is easier to get closer to the subject without blocking natural light or scaring it away, especially if you are taking photos of insects.
It is also best to choose a manual focus lens over a model with autofocus. Do not get me wrong—autofocus lenses still have their charm in other genres of photography. For one, they will lock in the subject instantly and keep track of its movement across the frame. But when shooting at higher magnifications, autofocus is not really an important feature to consider. Manual focusing is still better in macro photography as it allows you to select the specific focus point.
Finally, it would also help if you get a lens with built-in image stabilization. This technology can correct camera shake and vibration by up to several stops. Thus, it lets you shoot handheld or at slower shutter speeds.
- Budget – Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
- Mid-Range – Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
- High-End – Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Although macro lenses are essential in your macro photography journey, it is not always practical to carry them in every shoot. Sometimes, you need to bring an alternative, especially if you will also be capturing other subjects besides close-ups.
That is where extensions tubes come in. These are a cheap and lightweight solution that allows you to achieve macro and close-up shots, even when you are using a regular lens.
They work by acting as a spacer between the camera and lens. Then, they change the minimum focus distance (MFD) of your lens, which enables you to get closer to the subject.
Extension tubes are available in different sizes or thicknesses. Each one gives you a different MFD, so it is best to consider this factor before investing in one.
Besides the size, extension tubes can also be either passive or active. Passive tubes do not have electronic contacts to pass information from the lens to the camera and vice versa. That simply means it does not allow you to use the autofocus and other features of the lens, such as Vibration Reduction (VR). Meanwhile, active extensions tubes have these electronic contacts, so you can use the lens as you normally would. However, expect a slower autofocus performance.
And regardless of the type, extension tubes share the same weaknesses. First, they can minimize the light entering the image sensor, which forces you to use a smaller aperture. Second, they magnify the center of the frame that can slightly degrade the image quality.
So before buying extension tubes, it is best to weigh their pros and cons.
A reversing ring, also known as a reversing adapter, is another excellent alternative to macro lenses. Similar to extension tubes, they are an affordable and lightweight solution that allows you to use your regular lenses as macro ones.
They require you to mount your regular lens in a reverse manner. That simply means you will attach the front of the lens to the camera body. This way, you can achieve an impressive magnification factor of the subject.
A reversing ring is also available in two different types—with or without electronic contacts. The former enables you to use the aperture of the lens as you normally would. Meanwhile, the latter simply magnifies the subject and restricts you from adjusting the built-in features of the lens.
However, before buying this macro photography equipment, it is essential to know its downsides. First, a reversing ring simply transforms existing lenses into macro ones. It does not compare to a true macro lens, so the optics and image quality are not the best. Second, it does not allow you to use autofocus and aperture—you have to adjust these parameters manually.
With that said, a reversing ring is still worth considering if you are really on a tight budget. For as low as $10, you can get a macro equivalent of the lenses you already own. Plus, when you pair it with an extension tube, you can have more control over the magnification of the lens.
They work similarly to a magnifying glass. Once you attach it in front of a regular lens, they multiply its magnification up to 10x or more. Thus, they allow you to shoot small and macro subjects.
Close-up filters are also available in different diameters and strengths. The most common ones are +2, +3, and +4. The higher the number, the greater the magnification.
However, they can cause distortions, softness, and color fringing to appear in the image. They also reduce the minimum focusing distance of the lens, which results in lower-quality photos.
But considering their low price, close-up filters are still worth considering when you want to dabble in macro photography.
- Big Mike’s Electronics 58mm Close-Up Filter Set
- X-SweetDream 52mm Close-up Filter Kit
- KODAK 43mm Close-Up Filter Set
This macro photography equipment acts as stable and sturdy support, so you do not have to worry about camera shake or vibrations anymore. It also enables more natural light to enter into the image sensor instead of relying on a flash. Thus, it can deliver brighter and sharper macro images.
However, before buying a tripod, it is best to consider several factors to ensure that you get your money’s worth.
First, check its maximum height. You want an adjustable and versatile tripod with independent locking legs to reach certain subjects. At the same time, you may also want something with a rotating or removable central column. This component allows you to get as close to the ground as possible, which is important in macro photography.
Second, look for a lightweight tripod if possible. You do not want to carry your macro photography equipment all day in a shoot. Remember that every gram counts. So make sure you can bear its weight before buying this camera gear.
Finally, consider the tripod head type. Each one has its pros and cons, and it is up to you to decide which type best suits your needs. A pan-and-tilt head is more common in macro photography than ball head types. That is because the former allows you to make micro-adjustments so you can easily shoot from specific angles.
These allow you to adjust the focus in small or micro amounts by sliding the camera forward and backward as well as sideways. They also include built-in measurements, so you can control the specific movement of the camera.
Furthermore, macro rails are compatible with tripods. Thus, they can effectively eliminate camera shake to deliver sharper results.
Focusing rails are especially handy if you want to do focus stacking for macro photography. This technique involves taking pictures of the same subject using different focal points. Then, you combine all these images in editing software. And since macro rails enable you to move focus in a controlled manner, it will be easier to perform focus stacking.
- Neewer Pro 4-Way Macro Focusing Focus Rail
- Neewer All Metal Wormdrive Macro Focusing Focus Rail
- NiSi Macro Focusing Rail
It allows you to shoot photos in all weather conditions and at any time of the day, regardless of the lighting environment. Thus, it can help you capture brighter and sharper images. It is also handy when photographing nature and insects, which are usually active either in the morning or evening.
A flashgun also enables you to use smaller apertures, such as f/11 and f/16, with ease. As such, it can deliver a deeper depth of field that helps keep most of the subject sharp and in focus.
And with more light in the scene, it is possible to increase the shutter speed and freeze movement. Doing so is essential when photographing insects and bugs.
However, if you are on a budget, an external flash unit might not be worth the money. In this case, stick with the built-in flash of your camera and consider getting a diffuser, which I will further discuss later.
But if you have the money, an external flash is worth it, in my opinion. It gives you control over the direction and position of the light, ideal for capturing small and close-up subjects.
Flash, especially the built-in flash of your camera, can produce harsh light that makes the subject appear washed out. If you want to avoid this unappealing look, you might want to consider getting a light diffuser.
This is perhaps the least expensive piece of macro photography equipment on this list, but it makes a significant difference. A diffuser can spread the light to give you a soft and more natural-looking illumination. It is usually a piece of white paper or plastic that attaches to the top of your flash head.
Overall, it is a must-have product when you want to dabble in macro photography.
- Altura Photo Flash Diffuser Softbox
- Neewer Pro Universal Soft Mini Flash Bounce Diffuser Cap
- MagMod MagSphere
At first, it might seem unimportant compared to the other camera gear. However, it is still a must-have, especially if you will be shooting outdoors.
You need to be agile, organized, and silent when walking at a slow pace to find potential subjects. These usually include bugs, insects, and plants. Fortunately, having a camera bag will help keep you fast on your feet while ensuring everything is in one place.
There are different types of camera bags. Each offers its pros and cons, so it is up to you to know which one best suits your needs. But if you will ask me, I prefer carrying a backpack when traveling. It keeps my hands free, so I can shoot subjects right away if ever I encounter them.
That concludes this article about the essential macro photography equipment!
Each product on this list makes the shooting experience easier and more convenient. It can also help you achieve sharper and overall better macro photos.