True Macro

Dan, Entomologist by day and amateur photographer by night, recently sold his first born child to purchase a set of lenses for his DSLR. "Hey! Finally, pulled the trigger and got those lenses I've been wanting!" he said in an email. "Going to set up a couple of shoots with Mildred. I'll send you the results!" It took me a moment to remember Mildred was not his wife, but his Praying Mantis - or, one of his centipedes.

Not an hour later, I received a text: "Can't focus!!!! Not close enough!!!! WTF???"

Uh oh, they got another one, I thought.

There are scores of lenses out there in the world.  Written on more than a few of them is the word, macro.  Dan, along with many others, assume this makes the lens a macro lens.

What is Macro Photography?

Macro photography is close-up photography - or rather, as I call it, CLOSER-up photography.

It all has to do with the reproduction ratios.  This is a way of describing the relationship between the actual size of the subject and the size that it appears on film, or the digital sensor.  If the image is the same size as the subject, then the reproduction ratio is 1:1, or life-size; if the image is twice the size, it's a 2:1 ratio; and so on and so forth.

Close-Up Photography is where the reproduction ratio is from 1:10 to 1:1 - or, from 1/10th life-size to life-size.  True Macro Photography is where the reproduction ratio is from 1:1 to 10:1 - or from life-size to ten times life-size. Any further than that and you're entering into Micro Photography, which is macro craziness.

Here is an example of Close-up Photography at 1:2 ratio:

[caption id="image_171" align="aligncenter" width="700" caption="Hasselblad 503cw with 80mm 2.8 with #32 & #16 tubes; Imacon ixpress v96c; f8 @125th 50iso; gridded strobe camera right"]Hasselblad 503cw with 80mm 2.8 with #32 & #16 tubes; Imacon ixpress v96c; f8 @125th 50iso; gridded strobe camera right[/caption]

And here is 1:1 Macro:

[caption id="image_172" align="aligncenter" width="700" caption="Hasselblad 503cw with 80mm 2.8 with #56 & #32 tubes; Imacon Ixpress v96c; f11 @125th 50iso; gridded strobe above camera"]Hasselblad 503cw with 80mm 2.8 with #56 & #32 tubes; Imacon Ixpress v96c; f11 @125th 50iso; gridded strobe above camera[/caption]

The Macro Lens that is - but really isn't

Back to Dan.  I had called him up soon after getting his frantic text.

"But, it [expletive] says Macro right on the thing!" he exclaimed, hotly.

Turns out, the lens had another number printed on the barrel - 1:4.  Given what we know from above, this is not a true macro lens.  In reproduction, it is capable of producing a 4x6 print that seems life-size.  A far cry from what a dedicated macro lens will give you and even further cry from a 4:1 macro.

In the end, yes, the lens is a macro, but isn't the kind he had in mind.  They certainly can focus closer than a normal lens, but are incapable of giving him a beautiful headshot of his beloved Mildred.  What he needs is a dedicated macro lens, designed for this type of work.  These are lenses with at least a 1:1 ratio, usually printed on the barrel.

In conclusion, buyer beware!  Know what you're getting into in detail, before selling off your first born and your soul.