What is a macro lens?

Macro lenses are great for shooting incredibly detailed close-ups. Here’s what you need to know…

22 Feb 2016


If you want to shoot close-up images in a level of detail not easily seen by the naked eye, it may be time to add a macro lens to your kit.


What is a macro lens and how does it work?

Macro photography can reveal details we wouldn’t normally see in small subjects – letting you transform everyday items into interesting photo compositions.

When you add a macro lens, small objects look large in your view finder. This allows you to fill the frame with something very small and get a life-size version in your final image.


How can it improve my camera setup?

As macro lenses allow you to fill the whole frame with your subject, you have much greater control over what you shoot.

With a macro lens, you can get a life size image of your subject on your camera’s sensor. For example, you could make a small object like a postage stamp or a 1p coin fill the whole image sensor.

The main advantage of this is quality. If you’ve got a 16MP camera, for instance, the size of prints you could make and the quality of image would be very impressive – revealing up-close detail not easily seen by the naked eye.Macro butterfly 

Things to think about before buying:

A key consideration when buying a macro lens is magnification ratio – this determines what size of image will be reproduced on your camera’s sensor. There are 3 popular sizes:

  • 1:1 magnification – 1-inch object recorded to the image sensor as 1-inch or life-size when the lens is set to its minimum focusing distance
  • 1:2 magnification – 1-inch object is recorded as ½ inch
  • 1:3 magnification – A 1-inch object is recorded as 1/3 inch

Another thing to look for is focal length. Again, there are 3 main sizes to choose from:

  • Short focal lengths 50-60mm – a good starting point, these lightweight lenses are smaller and usually cheaper to buy. However because they’re shorter you have to get closer to your subject – which can be difficult when shooting living things and cause shadows
  • Medium focal length 90-100mm – a good all-rounder, these can be used to shoot in a range of conditions
  • Long focal lengths over 100mm – larger and heavier. You have more room between you and your subject, as well as a narrow depth of field which allows you to isolate it

The downside to a longer focal length lens is shake – which reduces stability and can affect the sharpness of your photos.

To get round this, you may need a tripod or a faster shutter speed (which could mean you need to compromise on aperture). Or, pick a lens with built-in image stabilisation – great for handheld shooting.


What can I use it for?

Macro lenses are ideal for close-up images, revealing detail you otherwise wouldn’t see.

They really come into their own in nature photography. Shoot insects, plants and flowers – and see detailed close ups of a bumblebee’s wings, or rosebuds showing droplets of moisture and myriads of colour.

However, macro lenses also work well as a general-use lens because of the level of detail they’re able to capture. They’re often used in portrait photography for this reason.

If your camera records video, you can also use your macro lens to shoot video up close and reproduce it to life size.

Want to boost your camera kit with a macro lens? See our range