Macro badges are often slapped on lenses that offer a magnification factor of 0.5x or less. However, true macro lenses deliver 1.0x, or 1:1, magnification. This means that if you photograph a small object at the lens’ closest focus distance setting, it will be the same size as the image projected onto the camera’s sensor.
A 1.0x magnification factor might not sound impressive, but bear in mind that this is on the sensor itself.
When the digital image is viewed on a computer screen or turned into a photo print, there’s the potential for enormous enlargement – levels of detail are revealed that are practically invisible to the naked eye.
To get full 1.0x magnification, you’ll need a macro prime lens rather than a ‘macro’ zoom lens. Even then, some prime lenses bearing the macro designation don’t give full 1.0x magnification.
This is perhaps the most important thing to know about using macro lenses. Below we’ve compiled a list of 9 other things you need to know when using a macro lens.
For more tips on using your macro lens, why not download our free macro photography cheat sheet.
1 Stopping power
The maximum available aperture of macro lenses decreases as you approach the shortest focus setting. In most cases, it’s by one or two stops.
2 Stand clear
A focal length of about 85-105mm is ideal for most types of outdoor macro, enabling you to stay at a reasonable working distance from your subject.
3 In the way
When using 40mm or 60mm lenses at their minimum focus distance, you’ll often find the front of the lens comes so close to the subject that it blocks the light source.
4 Under the hood
Lens hoods are good for general outdoor shooting but often cast a shadow over subjects in macro photography, especially if you’re using a flashgun.
5 Circle of light
A specialist ring flash, which fits around the front of the lens, provides highly effective illumination for macro shots.
6 Shaky situations
While image stabilisation is useful for more general shooting, especially when you’re using smaller apertures, it’s of practically no benefit for extreme close-ups.
7 Staying put
Macro lenses that feature internal focusing are easier to use in close-up work as you don’t need to worry about the front element extending towards your subject.
8 Further afield
When you’re using the closest focus setting to get full 1.0x macro magnification, the minimal depth of field means it’s often better to shoot subjects from further away and then crop the results as necessary.
10 The sharp end
Manual focus is often the only effective way to get the most crucial part of an object really sharp. Using Live View with maximum magnification is a great way of setting focus with the utmost precision.
DO or Di? Your lens markings explained
9 things you should know about using prime lenses
How to find your lens’ sweet spot
Test your lens’ sharpness
Try this cool reverse lens technique for extreme macro photography
Free lensing: dismount your lens for the ultimate creative effect