When you want to get close to a subject and record lots of its detail, you will need a macro lens. Macro lenses come in a wide range of focal lengths, so they can be used in many different circumstances. But they can be a little quirky until you are accustomed to working with them. So we’ve put together a macro lens explainer and a series of tips to help you get started.
What is a macro lens?
By Helmut Schütz, CC BY-SA 2.5
Let’s start at the beginning: what is a macro lens? A macro lens is a specialist lens that allows you to get very close to your subject and record its details. Unlike other types of lenses, macro lenses tend to have short minimum focusing distances, usually less than 30cm, which means that you can get very close to your subject. And they have a magnification ratio of 1:1, which means the image projected onto the sensor will be the same size as the object in real life. When a full-frame camera’s sensor measures 36 by 24mm, it means you’re focusing on something quite small and picking up a lot of detail.
What’s the difference between a macro lens and a telephoto lens?
If you know that a telephoto lens makes distant subjects appear closer, you might be wondering what the difference between a telephoto lens and a macro lens is. Well, a telephoto lens has a focal length above 70mm. A macro lens can have a focal length that is normal, telephoto or wide-angle (read up on what is a wide-angle lens here). Of course, being able to capture intricate shots at a distance makes a telephoto macro lens a favorite: you can film insects without disturbing them too much.
Depth of field of a macro lens
Depth of field determines how much of an image is acceptably sharp and how much is left to blur. The magnification factor of macro lenses means that they have very shallow depths of field. When a macro lens is set to a fast aperture, the image area that is in sharp focus can be as small as a few millimeters. Even stopping down to a smaller aperture, giving you a deeper depth of field, is unlikely to bring a great deal of the scene into sharp focus. You need to be very precise with your composition to ensure that your focus is carefully accommodated.
5 Tips for using a macro lens
1. Use lighting
Getting very close to a small subject can often result in blocking out more light than you otherwise would with a less close image. The shallow depth of field of a macro lens also means that you might not be able to use as wide an aperture as you would like to nail your exposure. To help expose your scene effectively, you will need to introduce more light into it. You might find that using a ring light is an easy and effective way to light a macro scene.
2. Stabilization is crucial
The proximity of your camera to your subject means that camera shake is very obvious when you shoot macro video. To avoid it, use a tripod. If you want to introduce motion into a macro video, ensure that it is as smooth as it’s possible to be.
3. Know the color of your background
Shallow depth of field means that your background won’t be identifiable, but its color will. Make sure that your background color fits with the look and feel of your video.
4. Depth of field
Macro lenses typically produce a very shallow depth of field, which means that getting everything in focus can be tricky. You need to be very precise with your composition and focus (Choose manual focus instead of autofocus). Remember that a greater depth of field from a smaller camera aperture will let in less light.
5. Preparation is key
Give yourself plenty of time to set up your macro shoot and film it. You might find that it takes a bit more patience and adjustment than a “normal” shoot.
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While a dedicated macro lens has a specific use case, it isn’t a one-trick pony. Macro lenses are highly versatile, and if you are going to be making macro videos, they are worth the money. Just give yourself the time you’ll need to get to know it and to set up your shoots.