"Do I Need a Macro Lens?"

Signed-In Members Don't See This Ad

Sylvanite

Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2006
Messages
3,020
Location
Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA.
The topic of what equipment is needed for pen photography comes up from time-to-time, and I frequently see people recommending a macro lens. Well, do you really need a macro lens to take a good picture of a pen?

First of all, let's back up and discuss what "macro photography" actually is. Technically, a macro photograph is one where the image on the film (or sensor) is at least life-size, and up to 10 times larger than life. That is, the lens is produces 1x to 10x magnification. Greater magnification is termed "micro photography" (as in using a microscope). The range from 1/10x to 1x is called "close-up", and less than 1/10x is just regular photography.

A "macro lens" is one that can focus close enough so that (given the focal length) it can produce an image that is as large, or larger than life. Now, I'm not talking about enlargements, but about the size of the image at the focal plane. For APS-C cameras (with approximately a 25mm sensor), that means that a US quarter would fill the frame.

Unfortunately, people have used the term "macro" so loosely, that it hardly means much more than "focuses pretty close". Even the camera manufacturers are to blame. Nikon, for example, calls their macro lenses "micro".

But let's get back to the question - "is a macro lens necessary for pen photography?". I'm going to be contrary and say "no". I don't have any trouble filling the frame with a non-macro lens. Using an APS-C format camera and a 28-135mm zoom lens, I can shoot comfortably from about two feet away. That yields a perspective similar to holding a pen at arms length.

Unless you want to take extreme close-up pictures, you don't need a macro lens. I don't even own a macro lens (at the moment), but I was able to take this picture using a zoom lens set to 70mm and an extention tube. It is on the verge of 1:1 magnification.



I did not crop the photo at all, so I could print an 11"x17" enlargement from the full-resolution version. If that's what you want to do, then I'd recommend a macro lens. If you just want to take regular pen photos, then one isn't necessary.

Sincerely,
Eric
 

Attachments

  • Nib.jpg
    Nib.jpg
    67 KB · Views: 638
Signed-In Members Don't See This Ad

randyrls

Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2006
Messages
4,399
Location
Harrisburg, PA 17112
Unless you want to take extreme close-up pictures, you don't need a macro lens. I don't even own a macro lens (at the moment), but I was able to take this picture using a zoom lens set to 70mm and an extention tube. It is on the verge of 1:1 magnification.
'

Eric; I have a Nikon D5000 and have been looking at extension tubes, but I can see there are two different price ranges one is $10-15 and the other is $60-90.

What is the difference between these two sets?

I should have searched before questioning... I found out that the cheaper ones don't allow you to use the auto-focus and other options in the lens.

But one more question... Does the use of the tube degrade the image quality? Most of the time, you don't get something for nothing.
 
Last edited:

Sylvanite

Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2006
Messages
3,020
Location
Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA.
But one more question... Does the use of the tube degrade the image quality? Most of the time, you don't get something for nothing.
Extention tubes will reduce both the minimum and maximum focus distance. That is, you can move the camera nearer to the subject (thus yielding greater magnification), but you won't be able to focus to infinity anymore.

They also reduce the amount of light that reaches the focal plane, so you'll have to increase the exposure (larger aperture and/or longer shutter time).

Any defects the lens has will be magnified. Depending on the sensor size, tube construction, and other factors, you may see some vignetting.

If the tubes don't pass the lens's electrical contacts along, then you may lose the ability to control the lens aperture (if it cannot be manually set). Depth of field is already very short, and if you have to run the lens wide open, it will be miniscule. You'll also lose auto-focus (although you might have to focus manually anyway).

I hope that helps,
Eric
 

76winger

Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2009
Messages
2,784
Location
Lebanon Indiana
Good explanation Eric.

Coincidentally, I read this right after posting a photo of my own using a micro/macro lens I just acquired. :eek: However for me, I wanted to take up close pictures, so I feel the investment, for me, was worth it.
 

RSidetrack

Member
Joined
Feb 5, 2011
Messages
457
Location
Fayetteville, PA
Macro lenses aren't "needed" for pen photography, but if you have the money it is worth the investment because it can be used for so much more. A 60mm f2.8 macro lens is a beautiful portrait photography lens. However, when photographing women you will want to soften it in post-processing as it will show every line, wrinkle or any skin imperfection because they are so sharp :wink:

I myself just got a new Canon 7D. I have a macro lens on the way (will be here tomorrow). My old film camera I had a 60 and a 100mm macro, loved them for so many things.

So if you have the $400-$800, get one, you won't be disappointed. However, do not break the bank, as OP said - you can make amazing pen photographs without the use of a macro lens.

Oh - another note about macro lenses, any imperfection in the finish of the pen will be shown. I actually plan to use mine to photograph before assembly just to make sure the finish is perfect. I unfortunately don't have a magnification system of any kind for me to inspect, so I have to carefully look with my eye and in different light sources. I am almost afraid to see what the Macro lens shows :rolleyes:
 

mmayo

Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2013
Messages
1,602
Location
Tehachapi, CA
I too like the macro to have around. My first lens was a 55 Nikon macro lens with a Nikon F. When photographing stuff for ebay I have a choice of a very handy Nikon 18-200 zoom, my iphone and a single focal length 105 macro. The image from the macro is so much sharper that it is worth the extra hassle to change lens and use a single focal length. For detail it is king. The images you have shown are wonderful and sharp in every way. If I have one I will always use it for closeup work and yes, portraits too.
 

Haynie

Member
Joined
May 20, 2011
Messages
3,516
Location
Page Arizona
Good explanation Eric.

Coincidentally, I read this right after posting a photo of my own using a micro/macro lens I just acquired. :eek: However for me, I wanted to take up close pictures, so I feel the investment, for me, was worth it.

You and I have the same camera, which lens did you get?
 

76winger

Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2009
Messages
2,784
Location
Lebanon Indiana
Good explanation Eric.

Coincidentally, I read this right after posting a photo of my own using a micro/macro lens I just acquired. :eek: However for me, I wanted to take up close pictures, so I feel the investment, for me, was worth it.

You and I have the same camera, which lens did you get?

I got the
Nikon Micro-Nikkor AF-S DX 40 mm f/2.8 G Lens. Purchased it used on Ebay for just over $200 USD. It works well for pens with a very close-up perspective in the range of 2-10 inches from the pen. If you need to work with a little more distance between you and the pen, then the 50mm or 60mm lenses might be better choices, although I'm not sure why the 60mm lens is twice the price. Popularity/demand maybe...
 

Sylvanite

Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2006
Messages
3,020
Location
Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA.
Macro lenses aren't "needed" for pen photography, but if you have the money it is worth the investment because it can be used for so much more. A 60mm f2.8 macro lens is a beautiful portrait photography lens. However, when photographing women you will want to soften it in post-processing as it will show every line, wrinkle or any skin imperfection because they are so sharp :wink:

For taking portraits, you want a lens that fills the frame with your subject from normal viewing distance, and has a wide maximum aperture. That yields a photo with natural looking perspective and short depth-of-field. For a 35mm camera, a focal length of 85mm is generally considered a good "portrait" length. If you have an APS-C sensor camera, a focal length of 50mm-60mm will let you shoot from about the same distance. Many Canon APS-C camera owners like the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens for portrait (as well as macro) use. It's pretty sharp with low distortion.

I hope that helps,
Eric
 
Joined
Jan 2, 2013
Messages
32
Location
Leeds, Alabama
Hey Sylvanite,

I have a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR), a Nikon D90. Just love it! If you ever get the chance of picking one up I would highly recommend one. I read your recent post regarding a APS-C camera. I don't understand what that means. I looked on my Nikon and it doesn't say anything about APS-C. Is that a Canon thing? One of the guys I work with at the Museum was asking the same thing. Just wondering.. As for a good portrait lens, I always liked my 50mm 1:1.7 lens on my Minolta X-700. But since it was a fixed objective lens I would have to walk toward my subject until they were where I wanted them in my camera frame. I don't use my Minolta anymore though.
..Oh love your pictures on your website! Looks great!
 

76winger

Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2009
Messages
2,784
Location
Lebanon Indiana
Hey Sylvanite,

I have a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR), a Nikon D90. Just love it! If you ever get the chance of picking one up I would highly recommend one. I read your recent post regarding a APS-C camera. I don't understand what that means. I looked on my Nikon and it doesn't say anything about APS-C. Is that a Canon thing? One of the guys I work with at the Museum was asking the same thing. Just wondering.. As for a good portrait lens, I always liked my 50mm 1:1.7 lens on my Minolta X-700. But since it was a fixed objective lens I would have to walk toward my subject until they were where I wanted them in my camera frame. I don't use my Minolta anymore though.
..Oh love your pictures on your website! Looks great!

Dennis,

Here's a great article I found on Nikon's Learn and Explore site that explains the two different sensor formats (DX &Fx) in their cameras:
http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Learn-And-Explore/Article/g588ouey/the-dx-and-fx-formats.html

I think it applies to other brands as well but can't say that with certainty.

Sent from my iPad using Forum Runner
 

Sylvanite

Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2006
Messages
3,020
Location
Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA.
I read your recent post regarding a APS-C camera. I don't understand what that means. I looked on my Nikon and it doesn't say anything about APS-C. Is that a Canon thing?

Advanced Photo System type-C (APS-C) is a sensor format that is somewhere in the 22-25mm range (it varies by manufacturer), as opposed to the 35mm frame size. Nikon calls their version "DX". The Nikon D90 camera body has an APS-C size sensor. See APS-C - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia for more information.
 
Joined
Feb 25, 2010
Messages
1,585
Location
webberville, mi
I used to do a LOT of photography (35mm film). Did an awful lot of close work. Put it down for a number of years but the "history" was quite useful when I started doing pen photos. All that's background. I've used +1. +2 & +3 diopter "filters" with (I think) excellent results. A lot cheaper than a macro and I don't notice any image degradation. PLUS, you can get adapter rings to make one set of diopers fit all your lenses. Makes for some interesting combos.
 

Sylvanite

Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2006
Messages
3,020
Location
Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA.
I see.. It sounded important. I still don't understand how that effects my pen photography. Oh well.
Let's perform a thought experiment. Say you set up your Minolta X-700 (which is a 35mm film camera) with a 50mm lens and took a photo of a pen such that it filled the viewfinder. If you took another photo with your Nikon D90 (which has a ~24mm sensor) with a 50mm lens from the same spot using the same aperture and exposure time, you would wind up with a picture with the same perspective and depth-of-field, but a narrower field of view. It would not show the entire pen. The ends would be "cropped off".

If, still using a 50mm lens on the D90, you back up so that the pen fills the frame the same as the X-700 did originally, then that photo will have the same field of view, but different perspective (greater foreshortening) and deeper depth-of-field.

If you go back to the original location, but switch to a 35mm lens (at the same aperture), then your photo will have the same perspective (foreshortening) and approximately the same field of view. but greater depth-of-field.

If those differences aren't important to you, then switching from a 35mm format camera to an APS-C format camera won't affect your pen photography.
 
Joined
Jan 2, 2013
Messages
32
Location
Leeds, Alabama
Thanks Sylvanite. An interesting example. And the information that you gave is interesting as well. My only real concern is that my pictures look good. Understanding the technical ins and outs of a camera sensor while engaging doesn't really help one take a good photograph. I would submit that most readers here would agree they would have to read fairly deeply into their users manual to see the terms "APS-C" and "Foreshortening". I may be off the mark but I perceive that most of the folks here are comfortable knowing there are atoms, and really don't necessarily want to split one.
 

76winger

Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2009
Messages
2,784
Location
Lebanon Indiana
Eric has explained some technicalities on perspective that I had long forgotten and it's good to have seen them again. Here's an interesting explanation with some examples of the effect: Telephoto Perspective Compression


For most in here, I would compare the smaller APS-C formate vs the Full frame sensor differences to how we used to view the 35mm format to larger format cameras. Simply put for average Joe's like most of us, the larger the medium the finer the detail and higher quality prints you can produce. But do you need it? That all depends on how much you wish to push the quality of the photos you produce and how much you can afford to spend in time learning and money for equipment to reach a level you're satisfied with.

For most in these forums, you won't be concerned so much with focal lengths and sensor sizes but rather use a single zoom lens to achieve various results of '"foreshortening and of lesser or greater depth of field by moving in close and "zooming out" or moving farther away and "zooming in". The last two pictures in the linked page above show the DOF difference between wide angle and telephoto from a give point of view.
 
Top Bottom