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What makes a 'macro' lens a 'macro' lens?
So what denotes a "macro" lens? I've seen zoom lenses labeled as "macro" lenses. I've seen 50mm lenses labeled as a macro lens and others that are not. Is there anything different about lenses that are labeled as a "macro" lens?..

Comments (14)

Generally a true macro lens is capable of producing a image 1:1 or same size..

Stevehttp://vette74.smugmug.com..

Comment #1

I would like to get at least an inch away from my subjects. What's the best MM lense for this. I'm so confused!.

Dom-http://www.photofi.com..

Comment #2

Keqwow wrote:.

So what denotes a "macro" lens? I've seen zoom lenses labelled as"macro" lenses. I've seen 50mm lenses labelled as a macro lens andothers that are not. Is there anything different about lenses thatare labelled as a "macro" lens?.

Just about ANY lens can be made to focus close by simply mounting it on the camera body with an extension tube in between. Unfortunately, unless the lens is specially designed for close working, it may have too many aberrations and so produce poor results when used in this way..

Macro lenses are capable of focusing on subjects that are particularly close, but have their optical arrangements optimised for the job of working close up to things. Also, they usually (but not always) have a built-in focusing mount with a double helix arrangement that extends enough to dispense with the extension tubes mentioned above, thus making the thing self contained..

The handiest macro lenses are longer focus ones, [say, around 100mm on dSLR] which get large images on the sensor WITHOUT being so close that the lens obscures the light reaching the subject. Obviously, this "stand-off" distance is even more important if your subject is alive.. insects etc..

Zooms that are "macro capabable"......

Because zoom lenses change focal length by altering the internal arrangement of their glass elements, very often an additional facility allowing the glasses to be switched into "macro mode" is included .... the elements are re-arranged in a way that focuses close in a manner similar to a real macro lens. What's more, the smaller sensors of cropped cameras produce a tighter framed image without going closer, so, taken together, this kind macro set-up may be all you need..... even if the sharpness isn't quite the equal of a specifically designed macro lens..

Please note: Despite what you may hear about any particular image magnification RATIO....

(1:1, or life-size on the sensor often being cited).

.... the size of the image on the sensor is not important in defining a macro image..

Because we so rarely view images at the same size as the sensor, [they are just plain too small for that] all digital camera images are much enlarged before viewing.....

.....and so it is that the extra detail available "in viewing" is what defines a macro shot, and not the sensor size that it happens to have been *enlarged up from*!.

There we are. I hope that helps. Regards,Baz..

Comment #3

Dom97 wrote:.

I would like to get at least an inch away from my subjects. What'sthe best MM lense for this. I'm so confused!.

(that would be lens, plural lenses).

I am assuming that you are referring to the minimum working distance (distance from the front of the lens to the subject) not the minimum focusing distance (the distance from the sensor to the subject), and that you want this to be as long as possible for a certain magnification.

Which specific lens would depend on what camera you are using, which you didnt specify. But generally speaking, for fixed focal length, dedicated macro lenses, longer focal lengths will give greater working distance. Almost all dedicated macro lenses produce the same maximum magnification, 1x, but some of them do it from further away than others..

Here are some example minimum working distances for Canon EOS mount macro lenses. Tamron and Sigma also produce the same lenses for other camera mounts,.

60 mm.......9 cm (Canon EF-S)70 mm&&.6.5 cm (Sigma)90 mm&&.9.7 cm (Tamron)100 mm....14.9 cm (Canon)105 mm&.12.2 cm (Sigma)150 mm....20 cm (Sigma)180 mm 23.8 cm (Sigma)180 mm....25 cm (Canon).

Brian A...

Comment #4

You got good answers. A summary and a point not mentioned....

1. A Macro lens can take closeups of small objects, ie, it has high magnification.2. A Macro lens has extremely high resolution.3. A Macro lens has a flat field.4. A Macro lens is not a super fast lens...usually f2.8 is the max..

The "working distance" is variable and depends on the FL and design of the lens.A Macro lens can be used as an excellent "normal" lens.Some silly companies, like Nikon, call their Macro lenses "Micro"..

Charlie DavisNikon 5700, Sony R1, Nikon D300HomePage: http://www.1derful.infoBridge Blog: http://www.here-ugo.com/BridgeBlog/..

Comment #5

Chuxter wrote:.

Some silly companies, like Nikon, call their Macro lenses "Micro"..

Not silly in the slightest, just correct. A macro lens by definition is one which provides a magnification ratio greater that 1:1. Micro covers ratios approaching 1:1. Nikon has in the past sold Macro-Nikkors but they are highly specialized lenses usually designed (and priced!) for industrial applications..

Not that it really matters of course, simply a bit of seasonal pedantry .

GordonGordon SolomonAssistant technical writer, dpreview.com..

Comment #6

Gordon Solomon wrote:.

Chuxter wrote:.

Some silly companies, like Nikon, call their Macro lenses "Micro"..

Not silly in the slightest, just correct. A macro lens by definitionis one which provides a magnification ratio greater that 1:1..

No Gordon. I cannot agree. Sorry..

As stated in a previous posting, in my view 1:1 is quite wrong as a definition of macro.....

....[excepting what was erroneously understood in the past, by people who's sole experience of close up photography was with 35mm cameras, mis-applying the labelling that their lens manufacturers used... Nikon or anybody else!].

It happens that the image ratio of 1:1 (as a definition of "macro") never really WAS applied by people regularly using cameras larger or smaller than 35mm.....

My 6x7cm film camera, for instance, has a lens that's close focusing and macro optimised, but cannot get larger than 1:4 unless fitted with an extension tube. Nevertheless, it's got "MACRO" engraved on it, and it's images are of sufficiently high quality that enlargement AFTER shooting makes up for any "lack of size"(!) on the film. .

Similarly, any 10x8" sheet film camera shooting to life size (S/S or 1:1) would, in your understanding, be taking "macro type" shots..

But this makes no sense.....

A view of a hand holding a mobile 'phone would just about fill the field of 10x8" at life size... but such a subject is just an ordinary "close up", and no way qualifies as a "macro" as it is generally understood, does it?.

Indeed, 1:1 is pretty useless as a means of describing a "kind" of photograph at all, because it is ONLY a magnification ratio. Now that we use so many image fields that are smaller for the most than the 24x36mm of 35mm, but could be larger, the image ratio on the sensor is not even half enough information to describe the picture type we are likely to be talking about..

Furthermore, precisely the SAME picture composition and framing would, at the same time, QUALIFY as a macro, and also NOT QUALIFY as macro (!) depending which size of camera it was being taken on..

This is clearly a ludicrous situation the silliest thing of all!!.

I believe that what's "macro" and what's NOT macro should be entirely divorced from the matter of what size ratio the image happens to be on the sensor. After all, we don't LOOK at sensor sized images... they are much too small for viewing. We look at pictures after they have very much "left the sensor" and are enlarged enough to see the details properly..

So it is that I propose the following new definition of what a macro photograph is, which definition would work for all magnifications and for any sensor size:-.

"" A macro photograph is one that shows MORE detail in a print held in the hand at normal viewing distance, than the original subject would have done were IT held in the hand at that same distance"".

Like I say, it is all about the picture, and what can be seen because it is a close up picture. The size of the sensor, and/or the relative size of the image falling on it, has always been beside the point.......

...... and digital has made this more true than ever..

Happy New Year to all. Regards,Baz..

Comment #7

Barrie Davis wrote:.

Gordon Solomon wrote:.

Chuxter wrote:.

Some silly companies, like Nikon, call their Macro lenses "Micro"..

Not silly in the slightest, just correct. A macro lens by definitionis one which provides a magnification ratio greater that 1:1..

No Gordon. I cannot agree. Sorry..

That's quite alright, no offence taken .

As stated in a previous posting, in my view 1:1 is quite wrong as adefinition of macro....In your view perhaps..

....[excepting what was erroneously understood in the past, by peoplewho's sole experience of close up photography was with 35mm cameras,mis-applying the labelling that their lens manufacturers used...Nikon or anybody else!].

It happens that the image ratio of 1:1 (as a definition of "macro")never really WAS applied by people regularly using cameras larger orsmaller than 35mm.....

The universally accepted meaning of the term macro is 'greater than' or 'larger'. In this case it's use is in relation to life-size reproduction. Micro is of course 'smaller than'. You can see where I'm going with this..

My 6x7cm film camera, for instance, has a lens that's close focusingand macro optimised, but cannot get larger than 1:4 unless fittedwith an extension tube. Nevertheless, it's got "MACRO" engraved on it,and it's images are of sufficiently high quality that enlargementAFTER shooting makes up for any "lack of size"(!) on the film. .

That proves nothing, many lenses with a 1:4 mag ratio are referred to as 'Macro' - I have a few myself. That's where the rot set in..

Similarly, any 10x8" sheet film camera shooting to life size (S/S or1:1) would, in your understanding, be taking "macro type" shots..

But this makes no sense.....

A view of a hand holding a mobile 'phone would just about fill thefield of 10x8" at life size... but such a subject is just an ordinary"close up", and no way qualifies as a "macro" as it is generallyunderstood, does it?.

Yes it does, the area captured is irrelevant. The magnification ratio between subject and captured images defines whether an image is macro, not any arbitrary aesthetic consideration..

Indeed, 1:1 is pretty useless as a means of describing a "kind" ofphotograph at all, because it is ONLY a magnification ratio. Now thatwe use so many image fields that are smaller for the most than the24x36mm of 35mm, but could be larger, the image ratio on the sensoris not even half enough information to describe the picture type weare likely to be talking about..

Macro not a picture type, truly it isn't....

Furthermore, precisely the SAME picture composition and framingwould, at the same time, QUALIFY as a macro, and also NOT QUALIFY asmacro (!) depending which size of camera it was being taken on..

This is true and accepted. The size of subject you can reproduce at life-size is defined by the size of the capture area. Lenses which give a 1:1 ratio on 35mm film still give a 1:1 ratio on APS-C, you're just limited to smaller subjects..

This is clearly a ludicrous situation the silliest thing of all!!.

I believe that what's "macro" and what's NOT macro should be entirelydivorced from the matter of what size ratio the image happens to beon the sensor. After all, we don't LOOK at sensor sized images...they are much too small for viewing. We look at pictures after theyhave very much "left the sensor" and are enlarged enough to see thedetails properly..

Again irrelevant. The words 'I believe' and 'should' say it all....

So it is that I propose the following new definition of what a macrophotograph is, which definition would work for all magnifications andfor any sensor size:-.

"" A macro photograph is one that shows MORE detail in a print heldin the hand at normal viewing distance, than the original subjectwould have done were IT held in the hand at that same distance"".

Why are we proposing new definitions? Shouldn't we agree on the existing one first?.

Like I say, it is all about the picture, and what can be seen becauseit is a close up picture. The size of the sensor, and/or the relativesize of the image falling on it, has always been beside thepoint.......

...... and digital has made this more true than ever..

Digital has changed nothing, neither did the switch from contact prints to enlargements. 1:1 is 1:1 and macro refers to greater-than-life-size reproduction on the *capturing* media. What you do with that image from there is entirely up to you..

Happy New Year to all. .

Agreed!.

GordonGordon SolomonAssistant technical writer, dpreview.com..

Comment #8

Gordon Solomon wrote:.

Snip.

The universally accepted meaning of the term macro is 'greater than'or 'larger'. In this case it's use is in relation to life-sizereproduction. Micro is of course 'smaller than'. You can see whereI'm going with this..

Yes. I understand your use of terms. I just don't think confining things to how images appear at the sensor is particularly helpful anymore, especially as we no longer need to increase exposure in line with mag ratio, the way we did before TTL metering came along..

Good Grief, man! I isn't as if there is any OTHER reason to even KNOW what the magnification ratio at the sensor happens to be, so it could hardly be more irrelevant..

Snip..

Similarly, any 10x8" sheet film camera shooting to life size (S/S or1:1) would, in your understanding, be taking "macro type" shots..

But this makes no sense.....

A view of a hand holding a mobile 'phone would just about fill thefield of 10x8" at life size... but such a subject is just an ordinary"close up", and no way qualifies as a "macro" as it is generallyunderstood, does it?.

Yes it does, the area captured is irrelevant. The magnification ratiobetween subject and captured images defines whether an image ismacro, not any arbitrary aesthetic consideration..

Now this is where the whole Macro thing gets out of hand, and becomes counterproductive. There simply is no logic in an identically framed photograph being a "macro" in one sort of camera, and "NOT a macro" in another sort of camera. Like it or not, if you are going to insist on this distinction being made, then the capture area becomes very relevant indeed ... and your argument swings round in a circle and disappears up it's own nether end !!.

Indeed, 1:1 is pretty useless as a means of describing a "kind" ofphotograph at all, because it is ONLY a magnification ratio. Now thatwe use so many image fields that are smaller for the most than the24x36mm of 35mm, but could be larger, the image ratio on the sensoris not even half enough information to describe the picture type weare likely to be talking about..

Macro not a picture type, truly it isn't....

Yes.. but you will admit that's how it IS used all the time. I am saying this would make more sense if the use was rationalised and made sensible, with a definition that meant something where the pictures are seen......

Furthermore, precisely the SAME picture composition and framingwould, at the same time, QUALIFY as a macro, and also NOT QUALIFY asmacro (!) depending which size of camera it was being taken on..

This is true and accepted. The size of subject you can reproduce atlife-size is defined by the size of the capture area. Lenses whichgive a 1:1 ratio on 35mm film still give a 1:1 ratio on APS-C, you'rejust limited to smaller subjects..

Yes. But it is DAFT, isn't it? It's very confusing to the initiated, and no longer serves any practical purpose at all....

This is clearly a ludicrous situation the silliest thing of all!!.

I believe that what's "macro" and what's NOT macro should be entirelydivorced from the matter of what size ratio the image happens to beon the sensor. After all, we don't LOOK at sensor sized images...they are much too small for viewing. We look at pictures after theyhave very much "left the sensor" and are enlarged enough to see thedetails properly..

Again irrelevant. The words 'I believe' and 'should' say it all....

Hey! Give me break, Gordon! The reason for 'believe' and 'should' is obvious. I am trying not to be too dictatorial in advocating change, in the face of a dogma that has got past it's sell-by date, and serves only to confuse..

So it is that I propose the following new definition of what a macrophotograph is, which definition would work for all magnifications andfor any sensor size:-.

"" A macro photograph is one that shows MORE detail in a print heldin the hand at normal viewing distance, than the original subjectwould have done were IT held in the hand at that same distance"".

Why are we proposing new definitions? Shouldn't we agree on theexisting one first?.

No need whatsoever. The new definition applies to the final image, where it counts..

It also conforms to your requirement for the etymology of the term "macro", because "MORE detail" in the print is as a result of greater-size-than-the-original subject..

So, really and truthfully, I cannot understand your gripe..

Seems to me you should be completely on-side with the separation of capturing media from the understanding of the term "macro", and it's transference to the output media ....

.... and you "should" be so (if I may use that word!) for the principle reason that YOU advocate!!Regards,Baz..

Comment #9

True macro lens is different in construction, optimal focusing distance and glass element ("floating")..

Http://lordofthelens.smugmug.com/..

Comment #10

Oh well... guess I'll correct it.....

Barrie Davis wrote:.

Gordon Solomon wrote:.

Edit.

This is true and accepted. The size of subject you can reproduce atlife-size is defined by the size of the capture area. Lenses whichgive a 1:1 ratio on 35mm film still give a 1:1 ratio on APS-C, you'rejust limited to smaller subjects..

Yes. But it is DAFT, isn't it? It's very confusing to the UN-initiated,and no longer serves any practical purpose at all...editRegards,Baz..

Comment #11

Barrie Davis wrote:.

Oh well... guess I'll correct it.....

Barrie Davis wrote:.

Gordon Solomon wrote:.

Edit.

This is true and accepted. The size of subject you can reproduce atlife-size is defined by the size of the capture area. Lenses whichgive a 1:1 ratio on 35mm film still give a 1:1 ratio on APS-C, you'rejust limited to smaller subjects..

Yes. But it is DAFT, isn't it? It's very confusing to the UN-initiated,and no longer serves any practical purpose at all...edit.

I liked it better as originally written. I count myself as initiated (I've shot macro, micro, 500X on 8X10 glass plates, 1:1 on 4x5, 5X on APS, 10X on 35mm with bellows, partridges in pear trees...) and the term confuses me..

It's like the "prime lens" scuffle in a nearby thread. The good news is that it has no effect whatsoever on the pictures we take. Just fill the viewfinder with what you want and press the shutter. Usually works OK..

Leonard Migliore..

Comment #12

Thanks, Gordon, for bringing some sanity to the discussion. You are, of course, completely correct..

Could I get you to apply the same sense of reality to the "Prime Lens" discussion going on? It seems newbies in photography want to change the meaning due to their misunderstanding, and get quite upset when facts contradict their strange ideas...

Comment #13

Barrie Davis wrote:.

Gordon Solomon wrote:.

This is true and accepted. The size of subject you can reproduce atlife-size is defined by the size of the capture area. Lenses whichgive a 1:1 ratio on 35mm film still give a 1:1 ratio on APS-C, you'rejust limited to smaller subjects..

Yes. But it is DAFT, isn't it? It's very confusing to the UN-initiated,and no longer serves any practical purpose at all....

Baz, this makes total sense to me, is crystal clear and in no way confusing or impractical..

I find other definitions, which are less accurate and totally arbitrary, to be confusing and useless...

Comment #14

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