How to Buy Lenses for Your Digital SLR Camera

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Macro Lens Buying Guide

A macro lens is a valuable possession of photographers, both professional and amateur, who work with close-ups or life-size images. Shooting wildlife, birds, insects, flowers as well as portraits and facial close-ups are best done with the help of a suitable macro lens.

Basics of Macro Lens

The main features or characteristics of a macro lens are its magnification and focal length. The lens is, in fact, designed in a symmetrical manner, with construction at the front end of the lens reversed on the rear side to negate or correct distortions in the magnified image. The need for correction increases with the magnification factor attempted; close-up shots should necessarily be impeccable.

Magnification

True magnification or life-size is indicated by a 1:1 magnification factor or even greater in case of close-ups, blow-ups etc.

Magnification factors such 1:2, 1:3, or 1:4 simply render image half, one-third, or one-fourth of the real size of the subject.

Macro lenses of 1:2 magnification factor can, in fact, be customised to capture life-size images using suitable adapters (pricey).

Image size is bound to vary depending on the medium used (film or CCD).

Focal Length

Macro lens support fixed focal lengths ranging from 30-200mm.

Maximum Aperture

Allows plenty of light to create a faster lens with high shutter speed. The lower the number indicated, the higher is the max aperture.

Fully Internal Focusing System

Keeps the physical distance between the lens and the subject constant. Especially useful to film subjects in close proximity.

Distance Scale

Indicates the distance of the focus.

Focus Limiter Switch

Helps focus either on distant or close subjects by limiting the focal range to exclude unwanted contexts.

Image Stabiliser

Stabilises images to dampen vibrations and tremors when the camera is handheld. Helpful in conventional SLRs.


In addition, floating systems on macro lenses allow photographers to use the lens across all working distances, with no compromises on image quality. Such lenses support multiple independently functioning lens groups that optimise image quality at the different working distances. This complex design is priced higher, naturally.
Apart from the lens construction, the structure of the mount also enhances the optical reach of the lens. Macro mounts commonly sport a double-helicoid design.

Understanding Focal Length Variations

Macro photography actually is an exciting technique to learn and build on. However, one should remember that the focal length of macro lenses, while allowing a closer view of the subject, also determines the working distance or the minimum distance between the subject and the camera needed for a clean shot.
Working distance directly varies with the focal length of the lens. The shorter the focal length, the shorter would be the distance. Similarly, the longer the supported focal length, the greater is the distance. The choice of macro lens, therefore, is also based on the subject(s) the photographer is interested in shooting.

Macro Lens

Focal Length

Working Distance for 1:1 mag.(approx)

Ideal For

Short Macro

30-50 mm

6 inches

Static or slow moving subjects at short range.
 

Standard Macro

60-105 mm

9 – 12 inches

Portraits and facial close-ups.

 

Tele Macro

150-200 mm

45 – 60 inches (a couple of feet)

Subjects beyond easy reach, skittish creatures sensitive to disturbance.



Standard macros are the most common of the macro optics variants, with each having their own set of advantages and pitfalls. These influence the quality of the images, depending on how well the equipment is put to use on the field.

Macro Lens

Advantages

Drawbacks

Short Macro

Suitable for smaller DSLR cameras. Lightweight and easily portable. Greater field depth. Cost less than longer lenses.

Not suitable for quick moving subjects such as bugs or butterflies, harmful or poisonous plants or insects. Short working distance may scare off live subjects. Equipment position should allow for maximum light from the subject for a clear image.
 

Standard Macro

Best fit between the longest and shortest macro optics.

-

Tele Macro

Reduces the chance of equipment interfering with wide angle view.

Naturally well-lit environment that can be enhanced using artificial lights if needed.

Shallow field depth on a wide angled lens, however, can help to capture a subject in its context by focusing on the subject while rendering the surroundings fuzzy.
 

Costly, heavy, need larger filters and is slow to respond.

Shallower field depth despite longer range.

Difficult to adjust static objects or settings as they are away from the reach of the photographer.


Tele macro lenses are the ideal choice when looking to photograph wildlife in their natural habitat while still staying at a safe distance to take a shot without being noticed or harmed by agile predators. Photographers can opt for tele-extenders to almost double the working distance when needed. The distance also helps to avoid any disturbances in the settings.
Extenders are simple empty tubes fit between the lens and the camera body. There won’t be any major difference in the quality of the image, as there are no reflective surfaces within the tube. However, there is the possibility of losing a bit of light along the way.
There are select cost-effective alternatives to macro lenses for those looking to experiment with the technique of shooting close-ups.


 

Close-up Filters

Users get to pay less to snap a close-range shot; however, budget filters may cost image quality.
Specially coated filters from reputed brands are bound to offer better results.

Close-up filters are available in +1, +2, and +4 strengths and can be appropriately stacked to achieve the required magnification.

However, close-up may get difficult to use and often result in soft edges.
 

Reversal Rings

Directly mounted to the camera, these rings support a lens in its reversed position, offering exceptionally close views of the subject.
 

Macro Zoom Lens

Zoom lenses often come with a built macro option. However, it is important to take note that though their focal lengths fall in the short macro lens range, they often do not offer true 1:1 magnification.
 


While macro lenses are generally used to magnify images, their usage with specific camera types offers additional flexibility to the photographer. Fixed length macro lenses by far offer the best results and are usually available at higher prices. However, they are worth the investment. Buyers should first check out the visual effects and fitment of the chosen lens(es) in person at a local outlet by taking a few sample shots indoors, outdoors, or even rent a lens to check how well it fares before proceeding to purchase the lens online.

Conclusion

Macro lenses offer an immense opportunity to learn the nuances of photography while on job, for there are several aspects that demand special attention, especially when attempting a close-up shot. Revealing minute details of even the smallest of subjects can pose a challenge even to the most skilled professionals. Each subject is unique and demands the very best of lighting, aperture settings, shutter speed and framing to capture the nitty gritties carefully. Flora and fauna as well as human portraits and close-ups need their own share of attention. Macro photography helps photographers pay extra attention to focus and balance the shot, improving their awareness and responsiveness in the process. The mastery gained on capturing both close and distant subjects in detail is sure to influence all future work of professionals while being a valuable lesson to amateurs. Macro lenses, especially branded ones with the best of features and flexibility, are expensive. However, they are worth their mettle as they provide an opportunity to not only appreciate beautiful subjects better, but to also present them to the world.

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