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Tue Dec 27, 2011, 11:36 PM

Macro(micro) photography magnification levels

For those who want to get into close up photography, but don't really know where to start, I thought I'd post some examples of different magnification levels so that you can get an idea of the capability of different lenses with different maximum magnification levels. There are many ways to do close up photography. You can modify standard lenses with extension tubes, you can reverse mount standard lenses and/or stack them this way with other lenses, you can use bellows (which is just another method of extension), you can use diopters which are like filters which screw on to the end of a lens, you can use a macro lens, or you can combine some of these things. For most people just getting into this who have a SLR or some other type of interchangeable lens camera, I would recommend they buy an actual macro lens if they can't focus close enough with their existing equipment. With some of the other methods there are either complicated technical issues, or the quality falls off pretty quickly and both of those things can be very frustrating for the beginner. An actual macro lens can make your life a whole lot simpler, and for many camera types there is an abundance of macro lenses on the used and refurbished market that make the price of entry not all that high. One other equipment recommendation I will make is to get a decent tripod if you don't already have one. There are ways to hand hold and get good macro shots, but this really requires a bit more equipment and advanced techniques to do this. For those who are interested, I can go into more specific equipment recommendations that fits what equipment you may already have and what you're trying to do. I can also cover some of the technical challenges you're likely to run into when first learning close up photography.

The camera equipment used here is a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon 55mm/2.8 AIS (manual focus) micro lens. This lens has a maximum magnification level of .5x (1:2), but with extension tubes can achieve much higher magnification levels and still retain excellent quality. The pictures listed are cropped because the actual pictures would be much to high resolution to post in their native format. They are intended to show the level of detail that can be achieved at different magnifications. Most lenses I've seen that are designated as 'Macro' (Nikon calls them 'Micro'), will do at least .5x (AKA 1:2). So this is my starting point. What .5x means is that the full frame image on the media (film or digital sensor) will be one half the actual size of the object. Most digital SLRs are approximately a little less than 1" across on the longest side (APS-C format). This means that you can focus close enough to fill the entire frame with an object that is 2" across. A macro lens that has a 1x maximum magnification level would be able to fill the frame with a 1" object. So the bigger number means more magnification. At about .3x (1:3) magnification level, you're going to start noticing details that are hard to make out with the unaided eye.

The first picture is a resized full frame photo of my old Bulova watch taken at .5x. This should give you an idea of how closely you can focus with pretty much any lens designated as macro or micro. The next picture is the same picture, but this time cropped and not resized to show the level of detail available. The last picture is a cropped photo, not resized, which shows the level of detail available at 1.3x, which is probably a much higher level of detail than what most beginning close up photographers are going to need. This was done with the same camera setup, but using extension tubes to decrease the minimum focusing distance and increase the maximum magnification level.

.5x resized photo

.5 cropped photo

1.3x cropped photo

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Reply Macro(micro) photography magnification levels (Original post)
Major Nikon Dec 2011 OP
flamin lib Dec 2011 #1
Major Nikon Dec 2011 #2
flamin lib Dec 2011 #4
alfredo Dec 2011 #3

Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 12:47 AM

1. Nice post on close-in photography!

35mm film systems evolved over 80 or so years into every nook and cranny of imaging; from extreme telephoto to 10x life-size (a slide at 10x life-size would show an image 10x larger than the subject photographed) with off-the-shelf equipment. Digital is getting there but unless you want to DIY the systems just aren't there yet.

It's mostly a marketing decision--it takes volume to pay for R&D plus tooling and the demand isn't there yet. I've had to build several pieces of equipment to accomplish specific tasks that current systems can't provide for.

Digital is wonderful but it's just entering adolescence as a system.

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Response to flamin lib (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 12:52 AM

2. It took me many years to give up film

My first digital was the D70, and even then I was still doing film as the quality just wasn't there from a practical standpoint. Now that I've moved up to the D7000, I'm finally satisfied with digital. I think film still has the edge, but with film each push of the shutter cost money. There's something to be said for digital in that regard. I can do a lot more experimenting with digital that I could only dream about with film.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #2)

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 10:58 AM

4. Yeah, the early sensors and processors were nowhere as clean as the newest technology.

My E620 produces less noise at ISO 1600 than my E500 did at 400. As far as pixel count goes most people will never notice the difference between 2meg and 20. The E500 (8meg) produced flawless 13x17 inch prints at ISO 100 that held up with my nose stuck to them. I even cropped it to an effective size of 20x30 and it was still better than my Kodachrome 64 slides (RIP Kodachrome). If you shoot it right anything over 5meg is bragging rights, but that's just my opinion.

Photographers are funny tho. Every other graphic artist understands viewing distance: 4x6 is best at 1-2 feet, 8x10 30 inches or so and 16x20 looks best at six feet. Not us photographers! Hell no, we take that 16x20 and pour over it with a 10x loop looking for a misplaced pixel.

One of the things I like about Oly is that all the SLRs, including the Pen series use the same sensor and processor. From the E3 down to the EPL1. Some minor differences in firmware but the hardware is the same. Differences are in construction. My consumer class 620 is all high density plastic (body, frame and all), E30 is poly exterior over aluminum and the E3 uses titanium. Same with lenses, three grades: kit lenses all plastic with brass bearing surfaces the top end lenses are all ball bearing in metal frames. The top end lenses with the E3 are virtually waterproof-- impervious to rain, snow and salt spray. The glass and coatings are comparable but you give up speed, durability and some resolution in some focal lengths in the kit lenses.

Sorry for the shameless plug but I worked for the company for five years, met Mr. Miataini and like other Zuikophyles become a bit evangelical at times . . .

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 02:27 AM

3. Thanks for the primer. I am awaiting my macro friendly tripod

That's going to help cut spoiled shots, and muscle fatigue.

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