User friendly camera that takes great close up photos?
December 13, 2014 9:38 PM   Subscribe

My wife loves taking tight photos of flowers, bees and other stuff of that scale. She's not really trying to do true macro photography and I'm not entirely confident that she'd have the patience to deal with a complicated DSLR. I know that all the new point and shoots out there are capable enough to do closeup work and this question has been covered in previous years but I'm wondering if there are any standouts in the late 2014 camera lineup.

Her current camera is a Canon S120 (IIRC) and it doesn't get QUITE as close as she wants. It's auto focus seems very hit and miss. Her previous camera, a Canon Powershot 450 actually took better close shots that the newer one.

She might possibly consider a DSLR if it wasn't too bulky and could do what i've described in fully auto mode.

posted by bonobothegreat to Shopping (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It might be a little pricey, but this Canon 100mm macro lens takes beautiful sharp closeups, and it's also a great portrait lens.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:56 PM on December 13, 2014

Best answer: Look into micro 4/3 cameras. You can get great auto-mode macro shots with a good lens and they're in between a compact point and shoot and dslr in size. I'm really happy with my Olympus epl5
posted by horizons at 12:26 AM on December 14, 2014

The Lytro seems like a really fantastic, extremely user friendly little camera, and I think you can find them even more cheaply than this at Target, IIRC.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:12 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ken Rockwell reviews the Fuji X100T. The World's Best Digital Camera. Although it does cost $1,300.
posted by derbs at 1:29 AM on December 14, 2014

Best answer: If your camera has the screw fitting on the front of the lens to take filters etc, then you can put a Raynox macro lens adaptor on the front. They are simply amazing.

If you search flickr, you'll get an idea of just how good these lenses are. For the price, the quality is astonishing. Yes, the combination of a zoom lens and a macro adaptor is bulky and awkward compared to a dedicated macro lens, but you get to play with macro photography for a (relatively) tiny price whilst compromising very little in terms of image quality.

You can pick up pretty much any cheap SLR / micro 4/3 camera second hand and slap one of these on the front & take a bunch of amazing photographs before shelling out for expensive lens & camera kit which might let you go that final extra mile.
posted by pharm at 2:05 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

OTOH, you could go in a different direction and add an olloclip to her cellphone camera. Just a note, though: you'll need to give serious consideration to your phone screen protector when using the olloclip as it tends to interfere with any except the very thinnest film.
posted by DrGail at 7:00 AM on December 14, 2014

How much do you want to spend? I just switched from using a Canon DSLR w/ 60mm macro lens to this Panasonic Lumix LX100 (for portability/versatility purposes) and I'm really enjoying it. Here's the full review from dpreview. If you do go this route I recommend getting the optional automatic lens cap.

I haven't used it much in full auto though, as I shoot in manual, so I can't vouch for that. And it probably has way more features than she needs (but maybe she'd start using them if she had them).
posted by melissasaurus at 7:59 AM on December 14, 2014

I think of cameras like tools, in that the advantage to buying a better one isn't necessarily that you can't get a good result with the one you already have, but that the better tool (camera) will reduce the frustrations along the way to getting that outcome. So if your goal is to improve her shooting experience you have to figure out what particular frustrations are affecting her most and address those through the careful application of your hard earned cash.

I'd look seriously at Micro Four Thirds (aka m43), since there's a broad range of bodies and lenses in the system that are all compatible. Olympus makes an excellent macro lens, and you can look at bodies from both Olympus and Panasonic and take your pick* from size, weight, and features.

NB it's definitely possible with m43 to get too fancy for an enthusiast. I just upgraded from an eleven year old DSLR (Canon's very first Digital Rebel) to Olympus' top-of-the-line OM-D E-M1, a week before taking an eleven day vacation in Europe. It definitely removed frustrations from my own personal shooting experience (the focus speed and accuracy is among the best of any camera currently available; it can happily buffer as many shots in a sequence as I've needed, unlike the Rebel's measly four; the glass is smaller and MUCH lighter); but the flip side of that is that the thing is so complex and configurable I had to read the manual twice, as well as this user-written guide, and I still had moments where I forgot how to do a particular thing. That disease affects much of Olympus' line, according to the reviews, which often mention the menu system in sentences like "the camera includes Olympus' highly configurable, but deeply complex, menu system."

So, in that regard, maybe a Panasonic body would be more friendly for the average enthusiast. I love my Olympus, though.

* Note that for the most part Olympus puts its image stabilization in the body of the camera, while Panasonic puts it in its lenses (with a few recent exceptions). There is thus a slight advantage to buying an Olympus body if you're going to rely on image stabilization, as it will have IS when using lenses from either manufacturer, while a Panasonic body wouldn't be able to take advantage of IS when using an Olympus lens, such as the macro lens recommended above. You Can't Have It All.
posted by fedward at 8:09 AM on December 14, 2014

Full-auto macro is hard; while the S120 will try, it will try to find parameters that fit an average scene — the exact opposite of what you're looking for in a macro. Try it in Program mode, explicitly set to macro; it'll indicate some pretty long exposures, but with care and IS mode, you can handhold down to below ⅙ s.

I was just taking some macros of a gloriously spotty Ancistrus with my S100, and I was getting as close as I could want.
posted by scruss at 8:38 AM on December 14, 2014

I'm a fairly serious photographer and have recently started using a Panasonic Lumix GM1, a tiny M43 camera, after a few years with 2 other Olympus M43 models. I use it mainly with a Panasonic 20mm lens. One of the nice features is that for close-ups you can switch very easily (literally a switch, on the top) to manual focus, which is done by twisting the lens just like in the olden days, but on the screen the areas in focus are highlighted in blue so you can see what will be sharp and what will be a luscious bokeh blur. Lots of other bells/whistles but also good auto settings if you want to just point and shoot and it's palm-sized and pocketable. Not especially cheap at about $5-600 with the standard wide-angle to zoom lens, but I think it's good value and a good starting point to add (small) fixed and macro lenses.
posted by Flashman at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2014

I have a friend who photographs tiny nature things up close, and she uses a Pentax WG-2. It looks like it's designed for rugged outdoorsy use. I'm not an expert, but I could say one obvious thing: it has a macro lighting ring around the lens, so there's that.
posted by ovvl at 11:33 AM on December 14, 2014

Best answer: I have a Sony mirrorless 4/3 camera. (The next 3 or 5, I forget.) It's compact and super easy to use. It has auto settings. You can still change lenses for it and get RAW images to fix in post. Although, I only have the pancake lens.

We've taken it traveling and taken all sorts of pictures, and I'd highly recommend a mirrorless 4/3 for people who like photography but don't want to get into the nitty gritty (yet) or who just don't want to lug around a giant camera bag.
posted by ethidda at 12:16 PM on December 14, 2014

ethidda, just for the record, the Sony NEX series cameras have an APS-C sensor which is significantly larger (larger = better, as a general rule). They aren't micro 4/3 cameras. Sony doesn't make any m43 cameras.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2014

Response by poster: This sort of information and opinion would have been very difficult to for me to suss out by myself. I was totally unaware of just about everything suggested. I won't be making any descisions for a few more days, so I'd still value additional viewpoints.

I was hoping to spend less than $1000.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:02 PM on December 14, 2014

I picked up the Canon S5IS a while back, and it has a great macro mode that is capable of focusing on the dust sitting on the lens. It does auto-focus, but has a very easy manual focus mode as well, if the auto-focus is struggling.

It's a bit out of date now, but it's current spiritual successor, as I understand it, is the Canon SX60HS.

It's in the "SLR-like" category, but really isn't going to give you the performance of a larger-sensor camera. But... it has a 65x optical zoom, can record lots of 1080p video (no need for a camcorder), and has the super-macro mode, so it's a great camera for someone who wants to be able have some fun with photography and play with lots of options before deciding to get "serious" about things.

Good luck!
posted by Lafe at 7:07 AM on December 15, 2014

Best answer: Turns out that DPReview has a timely year-end mid-range mirrorless camera roundup. They like the Sony a6000 most of all, but it seems there's just one affordable macro lens, and at 30mm focal length it requires you to get really close for 1:1 magnification*. So the Sony solution (with 30mm macro lens) would be around $300 cheaper than their runner-up Olympus OM-D E-M10 (with Olympus 60mm macro), but the Olympus might provide a better macro shooting experience.

* Jargon explained: in macro photography, 1:1 magnification means that the size of the image at the sensor is exactly the size of the object being photographed. In this case, at 30mm the shooting distance that gets you 1:1 magnification is "around an inch from the front element of the lens." With Olympus' 60mm macro lens, you don't have to get quite that close.

The thing that's sort of a pain with interchangeable lens cameras (SLR or mirrorless) is that you're not just buying a camera, you're buying into a system. With m43 the system includes a broad range of autofocus lenses from Panasonic and Olympus, plus a number of manual focus lenses from specialty manufacturers. With Sony you're buying into the alpha lens range, which descends from Minolta's line. Minolta had some excellent lens designs and you can buy adapters that make old lenses usable on Sony's NEX/E-mount (with limitations that are way outside my area of expertise, but there are web sites devoted to the subject), but the range of native E-mount lenses is perhaps a bit small. Fuji and Nikon also have their own lens ranges (Fuji's lenses are especially well regarded; Nikon's mirrorless strategy was not attractive to me so I can't really speak on its merits). There are various third party manufacturers that target some or all of the mounts mentioned above, with omissions (e.g. Sigma doesn't do m43).

As a general camera it seems like you wouldn't really go wrong with the a6000 (which seems universally loved and has an excellent price), unless a bee got angry when you got too close with that 30mm macro lens. The sensor is larger than a 4/3 sensor, and all other things being equal, a larger sensor will be more capable in diminishing light (because physics). For a reasonably inexpensive, reasonably compact camera with good macro capability I personally would probably stick with an Olympus (the OM-D E-M10 or maybe the new E-PL7), but then I am partial to the m43 lens range and thus probably biased a bit. But to sum up, and contribute to your confusion, this is truly a buyer's market for cameras as long as you understand all the jargon and know exactly what you want, because there's undoubtedly a manufacturer looking to sell you exactly that.

Also, if interchangeable lens cameras are still too overwhelming (and they might very well be), if you search for some combination of words like "enthusiast compact camera macro review" you may find a pocket camera or superzoom model with a well regarded macro mode, but again, outside my expertise.
posted by fedward at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2014

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